how can I look more polished at work?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

While I’m currently working from home, I’m thinking forward to returning to the office soonish. I work in a business casual office (slightly more towards the casual side). I understand what counts as professional dress, but the polished and appearing-office-proper part of going to the office has always eluded me. Do you have any tips? I feel like I always look disheveled, even when I put a bunch of work into how I look. 

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 642 comments… read them below }

  1. catwhisperer*

    Get a handheld steamer – it’s way faster than ironing and making sure even your tshirts aren’t wrinkled is a great way to look more put together.

      1. bmorepm*

        I have a handheld sunbeam one that I got from a recommendation on a morning radio show 5+ years ago on amazon for under $40-looks like it’s around $50 now but it’s great. If you need to do a lot of creases, recommend getting the board that you hang on a door and run the steamer down.

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        I have the J-2000M Jiffy Garment Steamer with Metal Steam Head, 120 Volt, and it works great! Makes things look crisp and fresh with way less time and effort than an iron. I’ll post a link below.

          1. Mannequin*

            I bought one of these years ago when I did vintage resale, it is a workhorse and still going strong. I’ve used it for so many other reasons!

      3. TX Lizard*

        I have a handheld Conair that is life changing. I occasionally use a full size for super tough, floor length garments, but this little one works for just about everything and it’s quick. And it’s small enough you can travel with it. I’ll add a link in the next comment.
        Make sure to use distilled or at least filtered water to avoid any staining.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Make sure to use distilled or at least filtered water to avoid any staining.

          Good tip! I don’t have a Conair, but I have a handheld Rowenta steamer from Target that I just bought and will try it with filtered water moving forward. My last handheld steamer ended up frizting out and spraying white gunk on a pair of linen shorts, and now I think it may be because of the regular tap water I was using.

          1. JustaTech*

            I had that happen with a Rowenta iron (of course it did it on the shirt I was ironing to wear to an interview, because that’s how the universe works) so now I use distilled water and it hasn’t happened again in years.

      4. Mental Lentil*

        I’ve been eyeing one at Costco that’s about $50. I may pick it up this weekend now. I don’t really have the room to iron. If I get it, I’ll report back later.

        1. Carol the happy elf*

          Yes steamer, and a good hair straightening iron to refresh creases! (I use my daughter’s and just run it down the crease while the steam is still hot. Just make sure the plates are clean of hair gunk. Trust me on this.)
          Oh, and don’t steam pits or crotch.
          My dry cleaner (remember those?) said to steam from the inside, bottom while the garment hangs. Like blowing up a balloon. Steam up into the sleeves, the pants leg, the shirt body. Do that for a few seconds before you steam the outside, and the weight of the water will help stretch the fibers.
          The best hairdo is one you don’t need to fight with.
          Get a bra fitting by a pro, and stick to one manufacturer and one size.
          Get your feet measured, and wear the right size and arch support.
          The clothes you wear need to be just a tiny smidge too big, so you can move.
          If you’re comfortable, you won’t be fidgeting and trying to find a good position, and that will help you to look confident.

          1. I am Jack's Something-or-Other*

            So true Carol! Great tips. It has taken me too many years to understand the importance of choosing garments that fit comfortably.

      5. Lucy P*

        Thanks everyone for the recommendations. I bought a handheld steamer from a big name in home garment care and ended up sending it back because it did nothing for my clothes.

      6. Lee*

        For the duration of the Rona Retreat (501 days so far) I’ve relaxed standards for my team. Shirts are required. Pants highly encouraged. Except for Formal Fridays when I’ve asked we all wear shirt and tie. Started as a bit of a joke, but has since become institutionalized.

    1. HotSauce*

      I’ve always felt that if someone’s clothes are clean, fit them well, aren’t too revealing, are in decent shape and their bodies are washed/hair combed that’s enough for me. I don’t expect my employees to show up looking like Vogue fashion models. I typically only have issues when people wear clothes that are dirty, stained, ripped or so wrinkled they look like they were slept in. And I will add I’m not a fan of skin tight clothes either, I’m not a prude or anything, but the skinny pant look is not my favorite for any gender at work.

    2. 'nother prof*

      I pretty much only buy shirts that don’t need to be ironed. I bought one dress that does need to be ironed ~5 years ago, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn it. Wrinkle-free fabrics make everything and everyone look more professional :)

        1. Llama face!*

          If it requires ironing I’d be likely to *never* wear it and tempted to reassign it to the donate pile because it would be a “creates extra work for me” garment. Of course I also got rid of my iron years ago and never looked back so ironing isn’t even a possibility for me. ;)

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            I take my clothes out of the hot dryer before they’re completely dry, then hang them right away. Quick crease retouch if needed (Hair straightener, creases only)
            Saves electricity, saves my clothes from premature failure.

            1. Llama face!*

              A straightener? It’s like things have gone full circle from when gals used to try straightening their hair with a clothes iron. Clever idea!

              1. Carol the happy elf*

                It was actually my husband who thought of it. He saw this thing in the laundry room half bath, plugged it in, and it made heat. So obviously, it was a pants crease thingy, and he had been using it for several months before our daughter caught him with her hair straightener.
                Quick conversation and demo on her long, curly hair.
                He was- bemused….

            2. Mannequin*

              My dad only wore “permanent press” shirts & dress slacks, but my mom still did this so they’d look nicer.

      1. TardyTardis*

        I used to do this–hang things up straight out of the dryer–and I would also match the slacks and the shirts for the five days of work so I could just grab in the mornings (note: Eve Dallas apparently also does this). I did try to mix things up, to avoid the “Striped shirt = Tuesday” problem…

    3. Lee*

      For the duration of the Rona Retreat (501 days so far) I’ve relaxed standards for my team. Shirts are required. Pants highly encouraged. Except for Formal Fridays when I’ve asked we all wear shirt and tie. Started as a bit of a joke, but has since become institutionalize

  2. Murphy*

    Make sure your clothes fit well (i.e. pants, sleeves, and straps the right length, any waist or bust markings hit your body at the right place.) Even the right clothes could look less polished if the fit is a little off.

    1. Anhaga*

      This. I’m short and plump, and finding clothes that fit well can be a challenge. It makes a huge difference, though, between looking polished in a way that no one will notice, and looking somewhat awkward and rumpled in a way that people will notice. Clothes that don’t occasion comment or stand out in any particular way are great for a basic polished look, and having them fit your body is a surprisingly big part of this.

      1. Not the Fashion Police*

        Same here for me, short and plump. I don’t buy expensive clothes but I will have them altered to better fit my body size. I found the expense of most alternations to be minimal. I also have a hairstyle that is easily maintained. I always have my nails (and toes during summer) done. I found that thinner fabrics look best on a plus size because they don’t add bulk. We wear jeans in our office and I always chose a darker wash. Dark jeans, ballet flats, a blouse, tank or nice t-shirt with a cardigan or wrap over it is my basic uniform. I don’t know if I look polished to others but I don’t feel like I stick out as a unkept.

        1. Jack Straw*

          IMO it is impossible to understate how far well-kept nails (and hands/feet in general) go in looking polished and put together. Whether it’s a colored polish or a simple, buffed-to-a-healthy-shine manicure with cuticle maintenance–it does WONDERS.

        2. Hazel*

          I actually have a different experience with fabric thickness. I’m also plus size, and I’ve found that I need stiffer fabrics that will skip over any bulges that might otherwise show with jersey or other thin fabrics. I have a leotard-type shaper that I wear under just about any dress that I’m wearing to work, but even with that, I feel more comfortable with fabrics that don’t drape too easily. I guess it just depends on what works for each of us.

      2. Liz*

        As I am also on the fluffier side, what was a game changer for me, was fit. Specifically NOT wearing things that were too big or baggy. While it can be pricy, tailoring makes all the difference. Also, try and choose styles that are flattering on YOUR body type. Both of those things made such a difference in how I dress. And I owe a lot of it to Clinton and Stacy on What Not to Wear! They worked with all shapes and body types, and one thing I realized from that was i CAN wear things that aren’t like a tent, nad still look good, IF the style flatters me.

        1. COBugGirl*

          What Not to Wear and all the TLC shows c 2002 were awesome. My college roommate and I would RUN back after class in the afternoon to turn on Trading Spaces.

          I did not have the most normal of college experiences my first few years…! But I loved them all.

    2. ceiswyn*

      Seconded.
      I’ve been looking much more ‘polished’ since I lost a lot of weight, and that’s not because I’m doing anything different; it’s purely because I’ve been able to to find clothes that actually fit well, rather than having to take ‘close enough is good enough’.

    3. Xenia*

      I will add that more expensive clothes do tend to be made of better materials and have a better fit. If you do have the budget for it getting maybe 2-3 nice pants and 2-3 nice shirts (or skirts or dresses or whatever your preferred mode of dress is) may be worth the investment, especially if you can find something at a thrift or consignment store. I have found multiple good business casual shirts at thrift stores

      1. myswtghst*

        Agreed. I really like Universal Standard (their stuff fits a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and is made well), and I can often find pieces on ThredUp for prices that are more affordable for me. (They also have their sample sale now, so I was able to pick up a few more pieces brand new at reduced prices, which I’m excited about.)

        1. ampersand*

          I just wanted to say thank you for suggesting Universal Standard–I’d never heard of them but this is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for! Good quality, classic styles, looks comfortable…you made my day! :)

        2. just another manager*

          I’m trying to decide right now what to get from the sample sale… I love everything I’ve ever gotten from them!

        3. DeathLawyer*

          To add to this, often if you send ThredUp an email asking if they have any promotions, they will say no, but send you a coupon for a percentage off. Their return policy is pretty good for second hand clothing.

          1. myswtghst*

            ThredUp is just all around great, in my experience, and they keep improving their policies and rewards program. I do cleanout kits a few times a year to get rid of the nice stuff I never wear (and stuff I foolishly bought elsewhere but couldn’t return), then use the credits to help buy more stuff, knowing it’s easy to return if it doesn’t work out.

        4. Glitsy Gus*

          Yet another vote for Universal Standard. I live in their jeans and my favorite work skirts are from there.

      2. Amtelope*

        Yeah, thrifting more expensive brands can give you better results if your budget is tight than buying cheap clothes new. Especially for pieces like blazers where you expect them to last for several years and they don’t wear out easily.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Yes! Almost all of my beautiful blazers that I’ve had for years were thrifted and are from higher-end brands.

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            This is recycling at its classiest. If it looks good in a thrift shop, it can stand up to my washer and dryer.
            Quality holds up.

      3. mf*

        I find that more expensive clothes tend to be made of heavier fabric and have more structure in the architecture of the garment. This helps the garment sit on your body in a more flattering way and hold its shape throughout the day.

        In short: if you want to look more polished, opt for clothes for more structure, i.e. a blazer in lieu of a cardigan, a dress that holds its shape on the hanger, etc.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          This was really the game changer for me; things that look great in the morning don’t always look great by lunch! A sturdy (not necessarily bulky) material can make a huge different – and like Fran Fine most of my longest lasting pieces were thrifted but higher end. Some are going on 6-8 years of use, after who knows how many years of use before.

        2. LPUK*

          Also tailoring but with a hint of stretch in the fabric. I have several jersey blazers that look smart but are as comfortable as wearing a sweatshirt – bonus is they’re gnarly washable and non-iron

          Also dresses rather than separates – it’s amazing the compliments about being nicely-dressed I get when I wear dresses whereas as for me its always the laziest option -one garment and done.

      4. Gdub*

        I agree. Buy fewer clothes that are nicer. It’s easier to care for them, and easier to keep track of them!

    4. Sambal*

      Yep. The large majority of clothes don’t fit most people off the rack. You’re far better off looking for clothing made of good materials (cotton, linen, wool, silk, leather) and spending the extra money on tailoring. Tailored clothes makes all the difference.

      1. Beth*

        I offer only one amendment: NOTHING fits off the rack, just as no person is exactly perfectly average.

        Fit quickly gets worse as weight increases, because the average measurements are extrapolated upwards using completely erroneous assumptions. Start with junk numbers, then junkily change them to even worse junk. This is how all womens’ sizes are measured.

        Even eshakti.com, which specializes in made-to-measure, usually requires adjustment (and I’ve gotten some serious errors from them.) As Sambal says: get clothing made with decent quality material and have it altered.

        (Pro tip: get the garments a little too big, not a littls too small.)

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          Also adding – it’s worth doing a little research on which alterations are easiest and which are impossible or cost prohibitive. That way you’ll know how to tell the difference between clothes that can be altered to fit vs clothes that will never look quite right.

          Hemming a pair of pants that are a little too long is a very quick job, and easy enough to do a polished job at home with an inexpensive sewing machine and a few hours of practice. Taking in the shoulders on a coat is technically possible, but so expensive it’s probably not worth it. Adding significant width or length to a garment is (in most cases) impossible.

          1. Jessen*

            I’ve always wondered on this one what you’re supposed to do if you can’t find anything that fits the shoulders and has enough room in the bust. I need something curvy fit that comes in petite XS…

            1. MarcelMarsewing*

              Check out Bravissimo. Their size chart is based on how many sizes up you need to go (relative to the rest of you) to fit your chest. Unfortunately not a budget option, but absolutely wonderful for the chesty among us. They have swimsuits and lingerie in addition to the ever-elusive plain white button-down!

              1. LPUK*

                Second this – they offer standard dress sizes in really curvy and super-curvy which means that tgehy only have extra material round the bust ( tailored cuts or gathering) – shoulder width, waist length, sleeve length extra are unaffected and just right. Clothes aren’t always that exciting but they make for good office basics

        2. Fran Fine*

          I often get garments a lot too big and then have them altered, lol. My tailor is a magician.

      2. Fran Fine*

        I fully agree with this, Sambal. That’s exactly how I shop and most of my wardrobe has been professionally tailored to the point that, when I worked in office, people would ask if I got my clothes custom made.

    5. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

      This is the secret right here. If you want to go full on, get all your stuff tailored. Even the clothes from target.

      1. quill*

        I have invested (time, finger blood…) in DIY elastic for all my waistbands because yep, nothing fits right off the rack when you’re a woman unless you have a very specific shape.

        1. Anonariffic*

          I found a ‘curvy cut’ button down shirt once that had little invisible snaps sewn in between the buttons- no gaping holes where the shirt looked like it was trying to pop open at the bust! Immediately went out and bought a pack of them at the craft store to add to my other shirts.

          1. quill*

            ooooh good idea.

            I’ve been adding new button holes to things (buttton downs are inevitably made to the wrong scale in terms of how far they button up for me) including using that as a short cut to take in pants half an inch or so: Add a second button to make the waistband just a bit smaller and sturdier at the same time, so it actually stays above the hipbone rather than wandering down into 2001 jeans territory.

            1. LPUK*

              Sometimes ( why not always?) Marks and Spencer do shirts that have invisible button holes in between normal buttonholes to improve fit and stop gaping -which if I was Prime Minister, I would make mandatory. ( they are normal buttonholes except the other way round – ie the side with buttons on ( left looking down) has buttonholes in between the sewn buttons, whereas the other side has buttons sewn onto the underside between the buttonholes)

          2. Robin Ellacott*

            Those snaps are the best. I am FAR from busty and they still gape on me without the snaps. I will often wear a contrasting tank underneath and unbutton the shirt lower to compensate if the shirt gapes. Sewing in my own snaps is a great idea… I’m not too skilled but surely I could manage that!

            1. FlyingAce*

              That’s my usual style (tank top under an unbuttoned shirt). Came in quite handy when I was pregnant – I’d just fully unbutton the shirt, didn’t need to buy lots of maternity clothes :)

              1. LPUK*

                Yup – can confirm – I have about 20 different silk rib tops in all shades that fit under blouses or dresses – Rosamunde is my favourite brand – not cheap but last forever

          3. COBugGirl*

            Duluth Trading Company has some button-down shirts with hidden buttons at the bust. Like, they went all out on it to make them sturdy…I have seen snaps, I have never seen buttons!

      2. rachel in nyc*

        I ditto this. I like most of my clothing but I find that I sometimes feel slightly…schlumpy, I guess. It’s not that they don’t fit but they could fit better.

        Getting stuff tailored resolves that issue.

        1. Hazel*

          It’s so nice to feel comfortable in your (tailored) clothes and to know that you don’t need to worry about your clothes. I can spend my mental energy on work instead!

        1. COBugGirl*

          Target’s cuts actually fit me relatively well! Which surprised me. Their sizing, though…

          I got some basic long-sleeved shirts from there. Luckily I tried ALL of the colors on before buying. My XL size was tighter than my L size shirt…same brand and cut…just a color difference.

          And I was getting some jeans from Express one day and the regular length was LONGER than the long length of the same size.

          I don’t know if it’s true, but I saw somewhere that this happens because they stack a lot of fabric together before cutting, so when it gets cut, it’s not even, like when you try to cut multiple sheets of paper with scissors…it just doesn’t work right because it moves.

    6. The Original K.*

      Yes. Fit is so important. Clothes that fit well automatically look more polished. You might even want to spend a little money getting a few pieces tailored.

    7. kvite*

      Shoulder seams should sit right at the edge of your shoulder. The arm pits should be snuggly in your arm pit, not hanging down. Since I’ve started learning to sew (in order to have clothes that fit me properly), I’ve learned that I have a short torso – everything I buy off the rack doesn’t quite fit, and every pattern I sew needs at least one or two adjustments. If you’re female, and have this problem with the arm pits not aligning correctly, try a shirt from the petite aisle – even if you are tall, you may have a short torso. And “petite” generally refers to vertical fit, so they come in plus sizes too.

      1. AGD*

        Similar story here. Since I began learning to sew, I’ve learned that almost none of my existing dresses guessed correctly about where my waistline is. Alterations have made an enormous difference!

      2. Aerin*

        I discovered when taking my first apparel construction class that I have very narrow shoulders. Like, my shoulders are a size 4 and the rest of me is a size 14. So stuff bought off-the-rack usually has sleeves that are too long. Which means I usually end up shortening the sleeve rather than shortening the shoulder, because resetting a shoulder is a pain in the butt. I also have a really narrow waist compared to my hips, so waistbands are also a problem. The two most complicated alterations to make, joy.

        I bought myself one of those adjustable sewing forms, plus the Fabulous Fit set, to make tailoring easier, because having to constantly take stuff off and put it back on is a pain. That combo was about half the price of the cheapest full-custom dress form I could find.

      3. Robin Ellacott*

        Yes! I am 5’11” and figuring out I had a short torso was a game changer. I need pants from the tall section (if I am lucky – 36″ inseams are rare) but the tall shirts fit my arms ok but then the waist is all wrong. I’d rather have short sleeves than an ill-fitting top.

      4. Media Monkey*

        anyone who sews can give you a laundry list of fit changes they need to make for their body shape so it’s no wonder stuff in stores doesn’t fit well! and the first thing you do is to find out who the pattern company drafts for – i wish we could get this info for shops!

        i personally am proportionately tall so i add 1.5-2″ above the waist (split 50/50 above and below the bust point) and 2″ below the waist, broad shoulders, square shoulders (not the same thing!), slight full bust adjustment sometimes, larger size bottom half than top! in trousers a full booty adjustment too.

    8. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Yep. I’m getting to be very good friends with the tailor across the street because it is amazing how much better I look and feel in clothes that have been adjusted to fit me vs. trying to be happy with things off the rack. It does mean buying less (since I increase the cost of every item by getting it altered) but I think it’s worth it.

    9. Person from the Resume*

      Absolutely this. Have clothes tailored if necessary to get the right fit.

    10. Monica*

      Chiming in to agree on this one. Buy the clothes to fit your widest part (for me this is my wide shoulders in a jacket, my bust in tops, my hips in bottoms) and ask the tailor to take it in or hem it as needed.

      This works on clothes from Walmart and Target, although personally I ADORE ThredUp.com because I can get like-new clothes (sometimes even with tags) from well-made brands for relatively little money, and put the savings towards tailoring. ThredUp also has a super detailed set of search filters which is great for me because I love colors and prints and prefer natural fabrics. If you’re tall you can search on inseam length for pants.

      I found out years ago that celebrities even tailor their t-shirts, which was a game changer to me. There is a magic untucked shirt length that gives me the proportion I’m looking for (I have a long torso and short legs so I need to wear mid- to high-rise pants and shorter shirts so I don’t look stubby) and that alone makes me feel so much more put-together.

      1. quill*

        I’ve also got a long torso and short legs and the shorter shirts have been the bane of my existence for years, funnily enough! mostly because of the waistband gap problems: I’ve also got very tall hipbones and very thick legs, so the chore of finding pants that aren’t always being dragged down if I move has made it impossible to dress myself unless there’s a lot of shirt and pant overlap in the waist.

      2. Murphy*

        I also second thredup. Buying higher quality brands for less means extra money you can spend on tailoring if needed. Especially for basics that you will wear for a while, because they’re worth spending the money on.

    11. New Mom*

      So I have struggled with this for the past 5+ years. When I was in my twenties I was slim and most things looked good on me, but my body has changed a lot and I’m pretty clueless about how to dress myself. When people say “make sure clothes fit well” does this translate into “get everything tailored”?

      1. ErinWV*

        I doesn’t have to mean visiting a tailor for everything. I’ve been overweight my whole life, and one thing I can say is, don’t be committed in your brain to “I am a size 4/8/16” whatever. If you have to SUCK IN FOR DEAR LIFE, it’s not your size. Women’s brands are all over the place anyway. Buy the size that fits closest to your body, but zips or buttons or buckles without effort, and it’ll look the best.

      2. Murphy*

        Not necessarily always. It can also mean buying the right clothes for your body type and shape. If a blouse fits, but there’s a line for the bust that hits you in the wrong place (not something easily fixed as it would change the line of the shirt) then it doesn’t really fit. Getting pants with the right rise for your body. If your bra strap keeps slipping or showing, change the blouse or the bra. (I mean if this happens all the time. Happens to all of us sometimes!) Even if you wear cardigans open, generally you should be able to button them.

        These choices along with hemming pants (or letting them out if you need them longer) or shortening straps if needed would contribute to the overall look.

        I’m short and curvy with a large bust. I don’t do button down shirts. Yeah I could buy one large enough for my bust, but then I’d likely need the shoulders, sleeves, and body of the shirt tailored and I’m just not going to do that, so I just don’t wear them. But I do hem pants and skirts and shorten straps.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          I’m busty, so if I do wear button-downs, I wear a dressy camisole underneath and just don’t bother buttoning it above my sternum.
          Alternately, I like to wear mock button-downs (apparently called a vestee, according to a YouTube video a coworker sent me; she knows I wear these, as we were discussing how not to die of heat exhaustion when we need to look professional). It’s just the collar, a few inches around that, and then the front of the shirt. It’s made to be worn under a jacket, cardigan, or low-cut top, to give the illusion of wearing a full button-down shirt, but without the bulk of another layer. And for us busty girls, without the tugging on the 3rd button from the top.

      3. fantomina*

        I think the advice to buy high end and get things tailored is actually counterproductive for anyone who has a fluctuating shape/size (and my friends who are new moms have reported this for a few years after they’ve had their children), because it may not fit for long and then there’s a lot of sunk cost for nothing. I’ve dealt with fluctuating shape/size for other reasons for a long time, and my solution is to learn what kind of forgiving shapes, fabrics, and constructions look good on me without looking shlubby. For me, that’s ponte knits (looks structured, has some stretch) and narrow waistbands on skirts or rompers that are elasticized in a way that looks like gathers, which I find to be the case with 1/4″ elastic on a drapey, lightweight rayon challis, cotton lawn, etc. Or high waisted ponte knit pants with a drapey blouse.

      4. FormerProducer*

        Not necessarily! It may mean trying different brands to find one whose designs suit you well. There are some brands that are just never going to work well for me because my torso is too long. Alice Alexander and Universal Standard are two brands that have opened my eyes to what good fit looks like – they design their clothing specifically for plus size, instead of designing for straight size and then grading up, which creates all sorts of terrible fit problems.

      5. Pibble*

        The thing that helped me the most was a thrift store that didn’t have an item limit on its changing rooms. I’d take a wide variety of a specific clothing type and try it all on, going back and forth between items to really analyze how the shape looked on me. I paid attention to what parts where close fitting, what parts were loose and flowy, where various seams hit me, length of sleeves/hems, how the appearance changed when I sat or moved, etc. I’d look in the mirror and assess if it drew attention to areas I’d prefer not to draw attention to or areas I wanted to highlight, if it made me look balanced overall (for example, skinny cut pants make my legs look too small to support my body, while ones that come down pretty much straight from the widest part of my hips look perfect), and any other observations I could make about the fit. I took in a lot of items I knew I wouldn’t want due to the color, material, etc, because they were a shape I wanted to assess. Once I had a better idea of what looked good on me, I could pick ones that I would actually want to wear and that had features that looked good on me.

        Oh, and I also made sure to pay attention to how the clothes looked on the hanger vs on me – I found that the necklines that look the best on me are moderate scoop or v-necks because they draw the eye to my face, but when they were on the hanger, they looked like they’d be way too deep! Now I know about how low they have to hit on the hanger to look good on me, and it’s really helped speed up clothes shopping.

    12. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      Since I’m seeing a lot of advice about tailoring in this thread—any tips on what to do when buying shirts, blazers, etc. that are large enough in the bust and waist means the shoulders are too wide? I’ve read that taking in the shoulder seams is a complicated and expensive alteration, but if I buy to fit my shoulders there won’t be enough fabric for the rest of me.

  3. Ahoytheship*

    Honestly, I’m a big fan of having only 2-3 neutral color choices of the lower half (pair of khakis, pair of grey pants maybe, a dark skirt if you wear skirts), and then 6-10 tops I rotate through. You can find casual but dressy blouses/button ups in different colors to go with the bottoms. If you prefer more feminine clothes, a tank top+cardigan is a classic (I have 1-2 tanks and then 3-5 cardigans). And then one or two pairs of shoes that will match most neutrals (again, maybe brown/black shoes, sandals for the summer).
    Less is more. Also, full disclosure I refuse to own items that I need to iron/dry clean at all; go for fabrics with patterns and they won’t show any wrinkles :)

    1. boppity*

      Simplifying my wardrobe has helped so much. Every work-appropriate bottom I own is black (except casual Friday jeans), and so are half my tops.

      1. Liz*

        Same! I found some nice black pants I can wear almost all year round, aside from summer, and bought a bunch of them. I pair those with various tops, sweaters etc. and cute shoes and boots, and voila, i look good!

      2. Hush42*

        Probably the best advice I ever got was- choose one base color for your wardrobe. So mine is black. I buy black pants and black shoes. I don’t buy brown pants or navy pants because then I’d need to buy different shoes to go with them as well. Picking just one base color makes it easier to have a simple wardrobe.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Or even one color family. Almost anything you can wear with black slacks will also work with gray. So that gives you a paler option for hot days without needing a whole new wardrobe.
          Same goes for khaki and chocolate brown slacks, for the autumns out there.

    2. Kramerica Industries*

      Yes to all of this!! It’s so much easier to look put together when you already know that everything in your work wardrobe goes together and when everything is wrinkle-free. Knit tops are my go-to because they don’t wrinkle and look a little dressier than your average basic. A fitted sweater (or t-shirt sweater) with a good pair of pants is excellent for business casual.

      1. voluptuousfire*

        A cute black, short-sleeved sweater, black ankle pants, and flats also have a really cute retro/beatnik vibe that’s also office-appropriate. What’s not to love?

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I do the other way around – patterned skirts, solid color tops – because of the last clause in Ahoy’s comment :) tops take less closet space to hang up, and my skirts are mostly wrinkle-proof anyway, so I roll them up and keep them in a 12-pocket shoe bag hanging on my closet door. (These are also great for leggings storage, btw.) The patterns hide any wrinkles that do manage to creep in.

    4. Afac*

      I say this knowing I don’t always look polished (or have a priority to do so), but for those different colored tops, choose colors that work well with your skin tone/hair color. I wear purple when I need an extra put-together boost because I know it’s a good color on me. Unfortunately, my school has a culture of wearing school colors for formal events, and those colors are not flattering at all on me.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Can you wear a neutral with a pop of the school color? Like a scarf, or maybe a flattering cardigan covering much of the nonflattering school shirt?

        1. AFac*

          That’s basically what I do, yeah. I’m a fan of wearing a neutral cardigan over [color] top, then buttoning the first 2 buttons–getting as much space between [color] and my face as I can.

          I’m also senior enough to ignore the unwritten rule in some cases without too many side-eye looks (and not senior enough to be administration, which definitely has a stronger expectation to be in school colors all the time).

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I totally agree on colors. I have pale skin and light hair, so pastel colors tend to make me look tired and washed out. A bolder color will always make me look more awake and alert, no matter what the rest of me looks like.

        If you’re not sure which color families to shoot for, try going to a store and taking multiple colors of the same plain t-shirt to the fitting room. Take pictures with your phone if you want a second opinion from a friend or family member, and pay attention to which colors really pop against the rest of your coloring.

    5. Pony Puff*

      I agree and highly recommend searching “capsule collections” or “capsule wardrobe” videos on YouTube. There’s a lot of good inspiration and advice in those kinds of videos.

      1. Lee B*

        Yes, check out the capsule wardrobes on the Wardrobe Oxygen blog. The clothing is affordable and attractive. Pinterest offers many capsule wardrobe options. I purchase basic “system” items from Eileen Fisher whenever I see them on sale. Her system items all work well together, and can be supplemented by more colorful items from her collection or others. I also shop at Universal Standard,

    6. Llewe*

      Yep. I decided a few years ago that all my pants would be black. Different cuts, fabrics, etc. keep it from being boring. But it’s a big daily decision I never have to make.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        For the last 5 years I’ve worked in a job with a uniform. It is unbelievably freeing to wear the exact same thing to work every day. No worries about putting together a suitable outfit, etc.

        I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Even if my next job doesn’t have uniforms, I think I’d just get 5 of the same outfit and wear it every day.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I basically do this, but while the pants are all duplicates of the same pair of black pants, all of the shirts are different colors (but the same actual shirt). I learned this method when I was shopping with a friend back in grad school, and he found a shirt he liked and bought one of each color “so people will know I change my clothes each day”.

          I keep to only the subset of colors that are flattering on me (I couldn’t persuade him to do this – I don’t think he ever really understood about shirt colors and skin tones no matter how much I explained), but it turns out that you can wear the same shirt and the same pants to work every day for six years and no one will bat an eye as long as the pattern on the shirt changes every day. (This is in a pretty informal office, but it would probably work just as well in a more formal office with dressier shirts and pants.)

          The other thing I do is to lay out a week’s work of clothes into day-by-day outfits every weekend after I do the laundry. Then, I can look at each outfit and swap around anything that doesn’t work well to get the best compromises for the whole week (white bra versus black bra, mostly) rather than having “bottom of the laundry barrel Friday” with whatever is left by then.

          I also try to buy shirts with large, irregular patterns on them so it’s not obvious if I spill things on myself. On days that will be particularly trying, I wear the brown ones so if I spill coffee on myself it won’t be obvious.

    7. Artemesia*

      This is good advice. The key is EASY. I personally always feel disheveled in blouses — they untuck or wrinkle or gap etc and I never felt polished in them — so I always wore things that I knew would look unwrinkled and fitted without effort. For me that was knits — even fitted black t’s — under jackets.

      Fit is critical. I discovered the joys of tailoring far too late in life. Have a wardrobe of pants that fit — tailor them if necessary. Have jackets that fit perfectly – again have them tailored if necessary. It is a one time expense that makes such a difference.

      And have a limited palette of things that mix and match and you can count on to look put together. Know which things don’t quite fit or make you uncomfortable and avoid those even if they are great on other people.

      And think about accessories to complete the look. Scarves if you can handle them, especially in winter. Earrings. Hair control.

    8. Aerin*

      Everything in my work closet goes with everything else, which makes life easier. (Although there are a few brown pieces I just can’t seem to part with…) For me I stick to cool colors/jewel tones. I have a mix of solids and pattern pieces in both tops and bottoms so I do have to pay attention to avoid clashing patterns, but other than that it makes choosing outfits pretty straightforward.

    9. ceiswyn*

      Though be careful because the colours normally considered ‘neutral’ really don’t work for everyone.

      I’m naturally pale with hair that varies from ash-blonde to mouse-brown. Black, grey and brown all look absolutely terrible on me. I look best in highly saturated colours, and if I have to wear something ‘neutral’ then it will actually be a grey-green rather than a true grey.

      Learn what colours suit you, specifically, rather than following ‘rules’. Try things on a lot and ask your friends!

      1. Caboose*

        Cosigned! I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I look absolutely awful in white. I’ve got warm-neutral undertones, but certain colors turn me fully orange. White is one of them.

    10. Cookie D'oh*

      This is what I do. One of my “uniforms” is black pants, patterned top and cardigan b/c I’m always cold. In warmer weather I’ll wear flats or booties in colder weather. For casual days, I’ll switch out the bottoms to dark wash jeans.

    11. Glitsy Gus*

      Agreed. I’m a big fan of old school twin sets (short sleeved shell with a cardigan) because I tend to be warm and just feel more comfortable taking off the cardi if I have at least a cap sleeve underneath. They just make life so easy- you don’t need to think, they just go together.

    12. MerciMe*

      This. I have all black workpants (in a variety of styles) and black jackets that are crisply structured or of a slightly nicer fabric. Any shirt can go under that (but people get weird if you wear all black, so pick a different color), curl cream to make the hair look intentional (rather than bedraggled) and ankle boots, because between the boots and slacks, I don’t have to worry about matching socks.

      Also, bras that fit, if that applies to you.

  4. The Starsong Princess*

    Dress like the women a level above you. If you can, find out the brands and stores they shop in.

    1. Emma Woodhouse*

      Agree completely – helps to find a woman with a similar body type senior to you as well. I’m short so the same things that look good on a woman who is 5’11 don’t flatter me. I have a work uniform to keep things simple – when I’m in the office I need I wear sleeveless dresses from Theory and heels or a sleeveless blouse and a long pleated skirt. I can add blazers if needed but this keeps it simple. Rent the runway helps me bolster my wardrobe. People think I’m put together since I’m usually in a dress but I really just hate pants/they don’t flatter my body.

      1. kicking_k*

        I’m similar – office-appropriate trousers just rarely suit me. I have a very long body so dresses often work better than skirts/tops – it’s usually OK if the waistband sits a couple of inches higher than the designer meant, but with separates, trying to make sure my tops and jackets are long enough without being _too_ long/informal hasn’t always been easy.

        1. Artemesia*

          So key. I had the same problem with separates and discovered that dresses worked so much better. (for much of my early career I could not wear pants at work). Once you find a particular thing that flatters your body type AND is easy to wear, then get lots of that. If you feel you have to appear to be wearing different things every day, then vary the color of the wrap dresses, or sheaths, or the tops you wear under the jackets or the scarves — but go with the basic pants, jackets, dresses that you know work for you.

      2. Tyche*

        Yes. This year I switched to primarily wearing dresses and skirts when I changed jobs. At my last workplace we could wear jeans and a nice top and I usually did, but I look much better in dresses and skirts. At my current workplace we can’t wear jeans except on Friday and I look terrible in dress pants (plus they’re always many inches too long). Even though all women know that dresses are easy, I still look put together. I also got a haircut that’s easier for me to style with my limited skills.

      3. Miss V*

        I’m in an a very casual office where leggings and a t shirt are the norm for a lot of women but I pretty much live in knit dresses and honestly- I think I look more polished and I’m just as comfortable.

        I would also add for dresses- if it had a defined waist, belt it. I have several skinny, neutral belts that match pretty much every dress in my closet and I always feeling that putting one on is just a small extra bit of thought that pulls an outfit together and makes it look like you put more thought and effort into your outfit than you actually did.

        1. Ella*

          I wear black midi knit dresses pretty much constantly in my corporate, men-all-in-suits-most-with-ties role. With tights and black heeled boots I feel like I’m still polished and feminine, whilst being way comfier than I would be in jeans or business wear!

          1. LPUK*

            Yes to Boots – I have a variety of what I call dress boots – slim heeled, leg-hugging , smooth leather with no fuss or detailing that I wear with tailored dresses – so much more comfortable than court shoes

          2. Elle by the sea*

            I love such dresses too. Those are extremely flattering to my figure.
            I have always worked in casual offices where even tracksuit bottoms and ripped jeans are acceptable. Apart from dresses, I wear jeans or black trousers. Although I wouldn’t recommend lighter wash jeans in offices that are not entirely casual, my favourite pair that I often wear is a light blue vintage Levi’s 501. I still prefer my style to be more on the formal side, therefore I usually pair them with silk blouses or fitted top + blazer combinations. I don’t see much of a difference between a pantsuit and the jeans + blazer combo when it comes to comfort, but looks-wise, the roughness of the lighter wash jeans adds a bit of an edge, if you will. It makes you look both casual and polished. But obviously, it only works in casual offices.

    2. Puggles*

      Groom your eyebrows. Even if you don’t wear much makeup this makes a big difference. Groom your nails, at least file and buff if you don’t paint them. Also, make sure you don’t have bed head. Look at the back of yourself to make sure you look good.

      1. Spotted Kitty*

        Eyebrows/eyelashes – if you are anything like me (pale and blonde), these things can disappear. I always feel SO much more put together when I use an eyebrow pencil and mascara. My eyes instantly look bigger and brighter and my face looks more expressive.

        1. JimmyJab*

          For some reason read this as “my face looks more expensive”, which I guess is also true :)

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I just bought a super inexpensive trimmer from Walgreens with multiple trimmer length attachments. It’s so easy to use and took about three seconds to make my eyebrows look a million times better. I’ll put a link in the reply.

      3. LPUK*

        Having my eyebrows regularly waxed and tinted makes a huge difference and means I don’t have to bother with eyebrow pencils etc – just dyeing those fine hairs makes my eyebrows much thicker and defined on their own

    3. Elenna*

      Just don’t turn into that one LW’s coworker who was wearing literally the exact same outfits a couple days later. You’re going for “similar style”, not “creepy stalker”. :D

    4. TechWorker*

      Always fun when these women literally do not exist lol… (not because I’m super senior, to be clear, but because there’s very few women in my office). Some of the more junior women wear VERY casual stuff (think short shorts in summer) and I’m more careful about my work wardrobe than that – but do somewhat struggle to find the right balance for days when I want to look smarter (I would look super out of place in formal workwear). Saying that whilst some folks at my level wear a shirt every day, we work in tech and my director level, very professional, overall great manager wears hoodies all the time :p so I probably don’t need to worry *too* much.

      1. Ella*

        I think in those kinds of roles, it’s more about making sure the stuff you’re wearing is nice, even if it’s ‘casual’. Nice jeans with a form fitting, clean, neutral t-shirt and a blazer looks smart even with trainers, if everything’s clean and matches up together. Would love to have the confidence of the women showing up in shorts, but even if I did, I think my manager would chop my legs off upon entering the office, lol.

  5. Ins mom*

    Retired now and I did work in a very casual environment- and I wasn’t very good at this, but I would notice well kept or polished shoes

    1. Sambal*

      Absolutely. If you don’t already have a cobbler, now’s a great time to explore your neighbourhood’s options. Also, if you work in a casual environment where you end up wearing sneakers/tennis shoes a lot: get them professionally cleaned.

    2. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

      I agree with this – polish your shoes and find a good cobbler to repair and resole. Better yet, add rubber soles to new shoes when you buy them. It keeps the original soles intact and makes upkeep much simpler. If you have bad feet like me, you can also get cobblers to add cushion insoles underneath the leather lining of the shoe. I find them much more comfortable, and I love not having to worry about the adhesive coming loose while I’m wearing them.

      I also think that if you choose to wear heels at work, you need to be able to walk comfortably and smoothly in them. I spent many years clomping around in heels that were much too high for me, and I’m sure I looked more like I was playing dress up in my mom’s closet than a sophisticated businesswoman. Now I stick to heels under 3″ or flats.

      1. LPUK*

        Yup – wearing heels is a definite life-skill in more formal environments. I see lots of women that look great and well-pulled together while stationery but like Bambi encountering ice for the first time when they attempt to walk. One of my quirkier skills is that I can run on cobbled streets in heels ( grew up in a very old city!) – it’s all about where you balance your feet

  6. Sleepytime Tea*

    Get one of those sticky rollers to get lint and fuzzies (and cat hair, if you’re like me) off of your clothes.

    Make sure your clothes fit you. Tailoring is a small investment and having your pant and shirt cuffs in just the right place and the darts on your blouses exactly where they should be makes a noticeable difference.

    IF you’re into makeup (and I do mean if, because I personally don’t wear makeup), go to a local department store and have one of the makeup counter ladies help you find the right shades of everything. Have them show you how to apply it too. There’s lots of tips and tricks I didn’t learn as a teenager that make a difference.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      If you wear makeup, I second going to the Department store and getting help with makeup, but be prepared to spend a bundle, You DO NOT have to buy everything they recommend – I usually get foundation, blush and eye shadows. If you want to save money, buy a good mascara at the drugstore. Critically, go back to the Department store every few years or so because fashions in makeup change, and importantly, skin and eye shape change as we age and the makeup needs to keep up with that.

      1. JLP*

        If you go to the department store make up counter during gift time, you can usually get small masaras in the gift. Mascara tends to get clumpy quickly so sample/small sizes are awesome for switching out when it’s not working as well.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          This! I rarely wear makeup and just use face wash, serum, and SPF. But I do like to keep a small travel bag (about the size of a paperback) with 1-2 small palettes – Huda gemstone and Maybelline city brunch neutrals currently, travel size brow kit, a couple eyeliners, 2 lip inks, 1 dual-sided eye brush, and 1 mascara. I can get everything from a nearly neutral to a full glam eye. The more minis I can find, the more room I have for other bits and bobs.:) Ulta and Sephora both have travel / sample size either in with the full size or up at the front checkout. Since I’m not using them daily this helps me not be wasteful when changing out mascaras, etc, as recommended.

        2. Zephy*

          You’re only supposed to use mascara for like three months before replacing it – literally who is finishing a full-size tube in that time? Are they reapplying every two hours?

          (I say, with my most recently-purchased mascara being a nice 2018 vintage…)

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I absolutely LOVE makeup and always glammed up well for a night out. Not so much for work, never understood why I had to reapply stuff during the day.

        Someone recommended going to a professional makeup artist for a session, and it was worth every penny. I brought my makeup bag, tools, etc., and she helped me create a quick, professional look with what I already had. She recommended some products that made a difference – Primer?! Who knew? – and showed me some great techniques. Drugstore brands can look great if applied a certain way, and pricier brands look airbrushed.

        Maybe you can find good tutorials on YouTube, I seem to run across a lot of them now.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Jackie Aina is one of my favorite Youtubers for makeup. Randomly, Kathryn Morgan is another. She’s a professional dancer with the same Black Irish complexion I have (espresso brown / black hair, neatly white complexion with cool / pink undertones, blue eyes) and she has a few videos on her everyday makeup in addition to her stage makeup.

    2. Xenia*

      I will add that if you have hair longer than about 2 inches or so de-frizzing detangler or hairspray can do wonder for the little flyaway bits of hair we can develop. I find the single biggest thing that makes me feel messy is looking in a mirror and feeling like I look like I’ve got a bird’s nest on my head.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        On this note, I personally have coarse, frizzy hair, but the It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Product spray works wonders for me. You can get it at drugstores like CVS (which often has 30-40% off coupons available via email), and you can try out a smaller size bottle to see if it works for you. This doesn’t make my hair look oily or weighed down.

        IGK also makes Swipe Up individually-packaged anti-frizz wipes, which are nice for an even more portable solution.

      2. sofar*

        YES! This was a game changer for me. I have thin hair strands, but lots of them, leading to flyaways and general poofyness — and using heat styling often makes me look fried. I don’t have time to do a blow-out or straighten my hair anyway, nor pay $500 for the fancy non-heat stylers. But the Waterfall leave-in from R+CO is a miracle product that makes everything look great, and it smells so nice.

    3. fantomina*

      Not intended as snark, but a genuine question. Does anyone actually notice cat/dog hair on others? I have had cats for years, and I gave up on lint rollers. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed hair on a someone’s clothes. Only at their homes on furniture when it’s so thick it changes the color of the upholstery. Am I just not noticing what is super obvious to others? (for the record, I frequently get comments like “you’re always so put together” or “you dress so professionally”– I’m a fat woman who wears well-fitting dresses or blouses/skirts with blazers on a college campus)

      1. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I think pet hair is one of those things that can contribute to your overall perception, but most people wouldn’t be able to pick out pet hair as the individual thing they’re noticing. I think that’s true for a lot of the things mentioned in these comments. I would probably never notice just pet hair, but pet hair combined with ragged hangnails combined with scuffed shoes combined with smudged makeup might contribute to a more overall unpolished appearance.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        Some do, yes. A colleague told me she was surprised that I own rabbits, as I don’t have pet hair on my clothing (when we were in the office). I try to keep them out of the bedroom, and I keep lint rollers at work in my desk, as well as at home.

      3. Sleepytime Tea*

        I think it partly depends on the color of the pet hair. But yes, I do notice it on people, as well as myself. It’s one of those things that on it’s own, unless it’s truly all over the place, isn’t something that would make a person unpolished. But in combination with clothes that don’t fit quite right and shoes that are scuffed and etc etc it just becomes one more thing that prevents you from achieving that polished look. And as mentioned it’s not just pet hair, it’s fuzzies and lint and things like that.

      4. SorryNotSorry*

        I can’t speak for others, but I absolutely notice pet hair on others – and I have three animals myself.

      5. Salsa Verde*

        My neighbor has two large white dogs and even though they are very short-haired dogs, I notice dog hair on her dark clothes all the time.

      6. Patt S*

        Yes! It is more noticeable to others. You can always tell who has a cat because it seems that while the front may get lint rollered, the back of the shirt/pants gets missed. Same for folks with long hair that has one loooooong piece of hair (or several) hanging down. I shed hair like its going out of style and am always checking for loose hairs or the hairs that collect on my chair.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          This is another thing I use my lint roller for – I shed my own (medium-length) hair a lot, and I use the lint roller to do a quick swipe on my back as well to make sure I’ve gotten those.

          1. Kat in VA*

            Late to the party but if you have long hair that’s constantly falling (how I’m not bald is beyond me), don’t forget under your arms! I had TENS of hairs coiled up in the armpits of my favorite wool coat and not a day would go by (in The Before Times®) when I wouldn’t a few hairs in the armpits of my blazer.

      7. Person from the Resume*

        Yes … particularly if the colors of the pet hair contrasts with the clothes. But pet hair can be super obvious. “Oh, your pet sat in your lap before you left for work today.”

      8. Salamander*

        We have seven cats. This has required some wardrobe adjustment…instead of black or navy being my base neutral, charcoal gray, olive, and taupe are my base neutrals now, with a bit of khaki. Occasionally I find a light brown that works. Everything is washed immediately after wearing, and the lint trap on the dryer is cleaned every time. I have very few items that require dry cleaning.

        Some materials also suck up cat hair more than others. Fabrics with a dry hand will attract pet hair more. Smoother hand fabrics will tend to pick up less hair.

        Cat hair is just a fact of life, and my goth days are sadly beyond me. I kept one black suit and one black dress for special occasions, and they live in a garment bag until I’m ready to leave the house.

        1. Pennyworth*

          My mother had a white cat and it was almost impossible to be cat-hair free. We used to joke that she should dye the cat navy so we couldn’t see the hair.

      9. fantomina*

        Interesting. Thanks, all! Follow up question: what about visible bra straps? That’s something that legit drives me up a wall on my own outfits, but I don’t think I ever really notice it on other bra-wearers. Do I just wear pet-hair-and-bra-strap-blinders?

        1. Sleepytime Tea*

          Visible bra straps are… tough. I do notice them on other people but it doesn’t necessarily register as something terrible to me. I personally try very hard to never let bra straps show, but it’s a fact of life that those suckers sneak out.

          The only time I really notice bra straps in a negative way is if it’s not that the snuck out, but because whatever the person is wearing wouldn’t cover them even if they tried. To me business casual means no spaghetti straps or things like that where it would be impossible to cover them. If you can get away with that in your workplace though, I think those clear straps are less obtrusive or if you can stand wearing a strapless bra that’s the way to go.

          But a bra strap peaking out a tad isn’t something that really registers with me, personally. All that said, I’m sure it is something that some people would notice and consider unpolished.

          1. TeaCoziesRUs*

            I agree. Spaghetti strap camisoles / dresses can be beautiful and professional.. when worn with a cardigan or button down or whatever. :)

        2. Stunt Apple Breeder*

          Visible straps bug me when they happen to me, too. I don’t really notice them on others but I do notice gaping or drooping of improperly fitted clothes. Strategic use of safety pins to keep clothes in place/closed helps tremendously.

        3. LC*

          This may not be an issue for you, it could just be a particular combination of bra and top, but if your straps aren’t staying put or end up in odd places, it’s very very likely you’re wearing the wrong bra size (which is true for most bra-wearers).

          I only recently discovered this when I decided to attempt something other than the suuuper unstructured bralettes I’ve been wearing for the last year and a half, and holy moly it’s made such a difference. I wore an underwire bra all day yesterday and literally only thought about once, and only because I realized I hadn’t thought about it at all. I wasn’t uncomfortable or trying to adjust all day, my boobs were just well supported (and looked pretty great, imo).

          The standard guidance on measurements vs. bra size is just wrong. Most people wear too big of a band and too small of a cup. Just as an example, I thought I was a 34C, maaaaaaybe a 34D. Turns out I’m actually a 30E (30DDD depending on how they mark their sizes). On instagram, @ theirishbralady has a great series of “what a sizeX looks like” that is super neat.

          I highly recommend checking out A Bra That Fits, the website has a great calculator and the subreddit has a ton of resources (including for things like shape/placement/etc. which I feel made just as big of a difference as the correct size) and a very kind and knowledgeable community.

      10. Artemesia*

        I think that even if you can’t ‘see it’ it really makes a difference. There is a sort of weird fuzzy unkempt thing going if someone has a lot of cat hair on them. You don’t know quite what it is, but somehow the person looks dirty or disheveled at a subliminal level. I noticed this with my husband’s suits when we had the grey cat. A quick roll with the sticky roller made a huge difference in how crisp and turned out he looked.

      11. AutolycusinExile*

        Yeah, I think the color of the fur and the clothing makes a huge difference. Personally I never notice unless it’s really egregious (think, a whole clump of fur) but I have never been the most observant person; I get the impression it varies wildly between different people.

        To anyone looking, I HIGHLY recommend this thing called a Fur Wizard. It’s basically a reusable lint roller that isn’t sticky (more like velcro, but velcro that only touches hair/lint, never the clothing). I think it might be an as-seen-on-TV product, amusingly, but it has genuinely changed my life. No more failing to peel off the top lint roller paper, no more waste since it’s infinitely reusable, and I find that it works astronomically better than traditional lint rollers anyway.

      12. That One Person*

        Probably depends a bit on the animal’s personal shedding too? Like my dog has hair rather than fur so he doesn’t shed much, but my cat can get brushed and still find extra hair to shed on my keyboard and while I’m petting her. A lint roller or even just some tape rolled around my fingers was very nifty for taking care of it. If a person’s animal doesn’t shed a lot, and if the color matches them then some folks may just infer a spot of loose hair from the person.

      13. knitcrazybooknut*

        I know you didn’t ask for advice, so apologies if it’s unwelcome. But I used those lint rollers in the past and they don’t hold a candle to actual packing tape. It may not appear professional if you try it at the workplace, but pulling out a tape gun and using a torn off piece to smooth on your clothes and pull off all the hair (just like waxing!) will do the trick every time. I often do this at home when my cat has burrowed into my lap and I need to either go somewhere, or not die from allergies.

        1. fantomina*

          a request for advice was implied, so no worries :)

          I’ve actually used all of these options and more– traditional lint rollers, the fur wizard-style, regular packing tape, the sweater stones, and even these weird gummy lint rollers that are horrifying. They’ve all worked with varying degrees of success (the fur wizard is the only one I still own), but my problem is that I don’t remember to use them, especially since the thought occurred to me that if I don’t notice other people’s lint/pet hair, maybe no one notices mine. I may need to reevaluate that in light of this thread, lol

      14. Virginia Plain*

        Yes. Used to have a colleague that turned up at work with dog hair all over; looked unprofessional and like she didn’t give a crap.

        1. L'étrangere*

          I thought nobody noticed my cat hair till the day I saw it on my office chair..
          I agree with packing tape being a superior product to lint rollers, but what really works for me is those red flat brushy things. Even better when I found the flat portable version I could always have in my bag.

    4. Fran Fine*

      IF you’re into makeup (and I do mean if, because I personally don’t wear makeup), go to a local department store and have one of the makeup counter ladies help you find the right shades of everything.

      Eh. Color-matching is tricky, especially for black women and other women of color that are darker than a paper bag, so the makeup counter attendants may not be the best place to go for help with finding the right shades. I’m a lighter black woman who has never been accurately matched in a store, even when the makeup attendant was also black.

      You can start by going to Youtube and scrolling through makeup tutorials to find gurus who have similar skin tones to yours and then go and get samples of the products they use (understanding that ring lights may distort the colors in the video, and undertones are often hard to find as well, so the samples may be slightly “off” in real-time and you’ll need to get a range of sample shades to find the right fit).

  7. BeanDip*

    I like to plan my outfit in advance, then I’m not rushing in the morning, which may add to the disheveled look. I’ve found that if I just get up and get dressed, I might just throw stuff together, things that might not match in the light of day, or are wrinkled. Iron/steam if need be. And maybe run some outfit options by friends to get their opinions.

    1. A New CV*

      I always like my outfit more if I choose it the night before. I can plan every aspect from accessories to shoes to hair to makeup based on my decision made when I wasn’t sleepy or caffeine deprived.

    2. TheMonkey*

      Yep. I’d do the same.

      Once I’d gotten my dry cleaning and laundry done for the week, I’d actually go through and plan my outfits for the week so I didn’t end up with what’s ‘left’ at the end of the week to be something in two different shades of grey or that otherwise didn’t match.

    3. Pony Puff*

      Yes! If I have time on Sunday evening I look at the weather forecast and put some outfits together for the first half of the week.

      1. BeanDip*

        Always check the weather! I’m big into this, because I run cold so if it’s going to a windy, rainy day, I want my workout to include a sweater

    4. SarahKay*

      Seconding this. I check the weather forecast the night before and then chose and set out my clothes, right down to underwear and jewellery. I am very much not a morning person, so the less I have to think about in the morning, the better I do.

    5. Murphy*

      Also this! My husband has worn two different shoes (both black but not the same). I wore two different earrings to work one day. Dangly ones too. *face palm*

    6. crookedfinger*

      Seconded! I have an over-the-door hook thingy on the back of my bathroom door and stage my outfit for the next day there on the hooks – shirt/cardigan/necklace/scarf on a hanger get one hook, pants and undies get their own hooks, and then I put earrings out on the counter in a little ring tray. I keep a pair of office shoes at work to change into when I get there, and a lint-roller as well.

    7. LPUK*

      I used to know a woman who always looked immaculate and she used to plan her week’s outfits out on Sunday evening right down to jewellery and underwear, and hang them on a special rail together, one outfit per day. That’s some commitment! Id rather use a capsule wardrobe approach

      1. THE BOBO*

        My MIL does this for travel. Every outfit including accessories (necklace, bracelet, earrings, belt, handbag/purse) is on a hanger, she then puts the full hangers in her suitcase so they are easy to unpack at the other end & each outfit is set ready to go. Actually she did this last year before going to hospital for surgery & 2 weeks convalescence. LOL.

  8. bmorepm*

    If you don’t mind makeup, wearing lipstick has done wonders for me in this regard-I’ve always felt women who wore lipstick had a more sophisticated air about them…or something. It’s weird if you’re not used to it at first, especially bolder colors, but it really projects an extra air of togetherness (to me).

    1. Dorothy Lawyer*

      I agree, I feel more put together with lipstick. And nail polish – I rarely have time, but I love nail polish, it makes me feel like a grownup!

      1. Meg*

        I LOVE nail polish…I always feel more together when I have my nails done. That said, I in theory try to be vigilant with taking it off when it starts to chip. In practice it ebbs and flows, but for things like big events or interviews I’d rather have bare nails than chipped polish.

        1. Karen is my real name*

          i’m a big fan of nail polish wraps for this – they go on fast, you only have to wait for a top coat to dry, and they rarely chip in an obvious way. you can get both solid colours and fun patterns, if you work somewhere with a little more wiggle room for creative nails. i’m in canada, and like EZNails, but I keep seeing them on instagram from artify and other places.

        2. snack queen*

          I learned how to do my own gel nails over quarantine and it’s amazing. For me it will stay on for 2 weeks looking great and i can stretch it another week providing I haven’t done much manual labor. My nails are pretty thin and prone to hangnails and the gel has really helped it. Soaking them off is annoying but worth it compared to waiting for traditional polish to dry. I feel more fancy/put together too!

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      Personally, I think a deep red lipstick looks amazing on everyone. I know this isn’t a general consensus, but it is my deeply held opinion. Find a good red lipstick and ROCK IT!

      1. Allypopx*

        Strong agree! Your ideal shade may vary but if you can find a red lipstick you feel good about it’s life changing.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        Same. I love red lipstick, and I always feel way more polished and prepared when I’m wearing it.

      3. sunny-dee*

        Seconded. You don’t even need much makeup – powder (if you have shiny skin), a touch of mascara, and red lipstick, and you instantly look put together. No makeup skills required (and I have limited makeup skills). It also makes your teeth look whiter and can brighten your complexion, so you look more alert.

      4. I'm just here for the cats*

        Lipstick can look good but deep red does not work for everyone. I am extremely pale (thanks Norwegian heritage), especially in winter. If I wear red lipstick I look like a vampire or something.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          I am very pale with pink undertones and finally found the perfect red for me (Urban Decay Bad Blood). But I rarely wear it because it just feels jarring when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          Very pale with dark hair and my favorite lipsticks are in the purple family. I can go pretty bright/dark and still look normal. (Glossier Generation G in Jam is my go-to.) I will wear red lipstick on dates etc. but it looks like A Statement.

        3. Butterfly Counter*

          Vampires are considered very attractive according to current popular culture…

          Like I said, I know it’s not a universally held belief, but I have yet to see a person who I thought looked worse when wearing red lipstick.

      5. DarnTheMan*

        Even if you don’t buy directly from them, making a foray into lipstick is one of those times I would seriously recommend going to a Sephora or an Ulta and having a makeup artist help you determine your best colors.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I really want to schedule a makeup tutorial because I’m so bad at picking makeup colors. But covid numbers are spiking where I am and it doesn’t feel like the best time to be maskless with a stranger inches away from my face, so it’s on my “someday” list.

          1. DarnTheMan*

            I would also recommend Robert Welsh, Wayne Goss and Alexandra Anele on YouTube; it’s not quite the same but they’re all professional makeup artists and have really great videos about finding your colors.

      6. Forrest*

        Lipstick always looks great on me for the first 2 hours, but then it bleeds and I forget I’m wearing it so I don’t reapply. I have actually really enjoyed being able to use my amazing orange-red and dark pink lipstains on Zoom/Teams because I can see immediately when they need reapplying and do it straight away.

      7. Not really a Waitress*

        I was inspired by Miss Fischer’s Murder Mysteries to do red lipstick. I have fair skin with blue undertones, so it took a lot of experimentation to get the right red. But I did, and I always get complimented. I could be wearing jeans and a tshirt and everyone’s eyes seem to go to my lipstick.

      8. Miss Muffet*

        Same! I used to get a lot of compliments for being really well put together (back in the in-office days), and I swear it was mostly because I found a really great red lipstick and wore it with confidence!

    3. Betty*

      Agree on lipstick helping. I’m a huge, huge fan of Revlon ColorStay as actually staying visibly on all day through food and beverage, since I am not great at having a moment to always reapply.

      1. CatWoman*

        Agree 10,000 times on the Revlon ColorStay – I’ve had complete strangers ask me what I’m wearing as it does not come off on glasswear, etc. I also find that the color Always Sienna is flattering to a multitude of different complexions.

      2. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Just gonna plug my favourite “HOLY COW HOW IS THIS STILL ON” Black-owned small beauty brand on this – literally nothing will take off Beauty Bakerie liquid lipsticks except their remover. I am legitimately stunned at how well everything sticks. If you’re willing to pay a premium for really good lipsticks ($20) they’re my go-to.

        Like…legit their black lipstick stayed on ALL DAY without me needing to touch up the tiniest bit.

        1. Miss 404*

          Also their solid lipsticks! Picked up the Cherry Bomb the other day and love it (just be aware, it’s bloody tiny…)

      3. Fran Fine*

        Dose of Colors is another brand that has amazing staying power without the need to reapply throughout the day. And their lipsticks and glosses are all gluten free! (For those of us with celiac who have to consider what we put on or in our mouths.)

      4. Esmae*

        Covergirl Outlast is another great one! It comes with a clear topcoat and doesn’t melt under lip balm/gloss, so it’s a good one if you’re like me and love not having to touch up your lipstick but hate matte lips. I’ve had pretty good luck with Maybelline’s Matte Stay liquid lipsticks under lip balm as well.

    4. Zorak*

      I totally agree with this! Also, I feel like wearing lipstick somehow makes your whole face seem “done up” even if you aren’t really wearing any other makeup. Tinted lip balm + filling in my eyebrows is my shortcut to looking more polished. I really love Fresh’s Sugar Tinted Lip Balm – it’s pricy, but it’s high quality and lasts a long time!

    5. Salsa Verde*

      This is very true – lipstick is easy and quick, and has a big impact!
      I actually think this is a great video call trick – it makes your whole face look more awake and put together, in my opinion.

    6. Artemesia*

      I have never worn foundation or much eye make up — maybe a hint of neutral shadow but always wear lipstick. I think even a little fairly neutral lipstick makes a woman look more polished. Personally I use one of the lipsticks that comes in two forms — a paint for color and then a top coat of emollient. Those lipsticks literally last all day (you can refresh the top coat), won’t come off during a business lunch and once I discovered them I never went back to the ones that rub off and need constant attention. There are endless color choices from neutral to bright and I have found two colors that when combined are perfect for me.

      1. Makeup Maven*

        When I can find a good, inexpensive lip liner, that over lip balm can substitute for lipstick. It can also make lipstick last a long time when you wear them together.

    7. TeaCoziesRUs*

      Agree with the caveat that if you don’t reapply it it can quickly look unkempt. One reason I love the basic CoverGirl Outlast lip strain is that it lasts for HOURS – if not overnight.

    8. Aerin*

      For me the one piece of makeup to wear is eyeliner. I don’t bother with the rest of the eye stuff at work unless I’m feeling really artsy and want to play with eyeshadows, but just a basic eyeliner makes me look more awake and together.

      If I’m gonna do lips I’ll do a lip stain rather than lipstick, because I hate that waxy feeling. Tends to last longer, too.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        Tinted lip balm is my choice for this! Anything from a more budget friendly Burt’s Bees to the higher end Fresh (at places like Sephora) add a bit of pop without being as finnicky to apply as lipstick is. A bold red lip only looks great if the edges are smooth and it isn’t starting to wear off. Tinted balm is a bit more forgiving in both regards.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Ilia’s tinted lip oils are ultra forgiving and long lasting (on me anyway). They have such a nice, subtle color that’s not super done up, and I like that on a casual day.

    9. Hyacinth Bucket (Pronounced Bouquet!)*

      I’ve missed this with all the mask-wearing! My go-to look has always been SPF, powder, mascara, maybe some neutral shadow, and a bold lip. I now feel like I have to step up my eye makeup game because I can’t rely on a nice lipstick, and I cannot do eyeliner on my hooded eyes for the life of me.

    10. EventPlannerGal*

      My note of caution there is that if you’re not used to lipstick or you struggle with tidiness then lipstick can go wrong quite visibly, especially in these days of masks being put on and taken off all the time. And smudged/smeared lipstick is 1000x less polished than not wearing lipstick at all. You need to find one that will stay where you’ve put it and make sure you’re checking to make sure you haven’t smudged it, gotten it on your teeth, etc etc.

      1. LipstickLover*

        A very little powder around the lipline (foundation that blends with your skintone) applied with your fingers, then liner – not just to outline your lips, but also fill them in lightly, then topped off with lipstick, helps take care of this problem. And always carry the same color lipstick with you to quickly reapply. Also, if you’re about to eat – blot your lips on a napkin or tissue, and reapply lipstick quickly when you’re done eating. The outline from your liner should still be there. Estee Lauder makes some great moisturizing lipsticks that I can wear all day without drying out my lips. A great one to try out is the “Rebellious Rose” color, which is a soft neutral pinkish tone that is supposed to be universally flattering, and easier to start off with than a bold red (and I love red, but I use this pink when I’m not wearing something that goes with red, or feeling a little on the pale side).

        ^tips from a daily lipstick wearer. If you have dark eyelashes and no major skin issues, you don’t need anything but moisturizer and lipstick to look polished when it comes to makeup.

    11. Allegra*

      Yes! Someone I know once said “a red lip instantly makes you look like you’re wearing a full face of makeup,” and honestly I think it’s true.

    12. Glitsy Gus*

      I keep a tinted Sugar lip balm (orchid) at my desk for this reason. It’s got enough color that it makes me feel less washed out and more “done” but since it’s a balm it has a low difficulty rating, which is what I need in the office.

    13. House of Pies*

      I agree that focusing on above-the-neck will help a lot too. Get your hair done professionally and learn how to style it. Keep your brows neat too. If you have long nose or ear hair, get the speciality trimmer for that.

      If there’s a personal appearance issue that you’re self-conscious about (something like acne-prone skin) commit to really tackling it so you can alleviate self-consiousness. Do whatever you need to to make yourself feel confident; confidence will shine through and overshadow any ill-fitting clothing.

  9. Marie*

    I think the #1 difference between disheveled vs put together is how your clothes fit/ how they are kept. Are they baggy? Sleeves too long? Inseam too long/ too short? Is there a button missing, or a dropped hem, or a small stain? Are your shoes scuffed? These are small details that make a huge difference towards not looking disheveled. Think of someone who rents a suit for a wedding vs James Bond: a suit is a suit, but the James Bond suit is perfectly tailored and made of nicer material, so looks a whole lot sharper.

    1. Smithy*

      Just to add to this – do the clothes appear wrinkled. And clothing that doesn’t fit our bodies super well, be it too baggy or too tight, is often more prone to bunching and wrinkling over the course of the day.

      Certainly getting clothing tailored is a very good approach, but at least for women there are also looser styles and types of fabric that one can lean into that are less prone to wrinkling. That being said wrinkles are a very fast line between “following a dress code but not being professional” and “looking great at work”

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I love linen shirts because it’s so hot where I live in the summer. I feel like they keep me warmer in the blasting AC and I don’t sweat as much outside because they breathe …but MAN do they wrinkle! I bought several button-down shirts that are cotton-linen blend, though. They don’t seem to wrinkle as much and I look more pulled together.

    2. Grand Admiral Thrawn Will Always Be Blue*

      Many years ago I had two young men walk into the office where I worked. They wore suits but the fit was way too big for them, and looked just terrible. I don’t even know that I can speak to the quality of the suits themselves, what sticks in my memory is that they looked like little boys in daddy’s business suit.

    3. GS*

      My clothing picks up tiny grease stains very easily, I think it makes a big difference to the overall impression even of people don’t notice it explicitly.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        yes, this. I have found taking a minute to go through my shirts and pre-treat the little stains before I throw it in the hamper makes a huge difference. Eventually all clothes just pick up too many little spots to still look “nice” but doing this does help make that time come slower.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Clean and polish your shoes.

    Look at your belts – are they ragged, creased, tarnished? If so, fix or replace them. You can use the same saddlesoap and polish that you use on shoes to spiff up leather belts.

    Don’t follow trends that are unsuitable for your body type. I’m a guy with big thighs, so finding flat-front pants that fit my thighs means lots of extra fabric in the waist that gets bunched up. It’s uncomfortable and it looks weird. Better to wear well-fitting but unfashionable pleated pants than to try to squeeze my physique into fashionable flat-fronts. And don’t even talk to me about skinny suits; not gonna happen.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      So agree with paying attention to what works with your body type. I used to admire outfits on women and buy them for myself, and it took YEARS for me to realize that those styles looked terrible on me because I had a different body shape.

      1. DG*

        This was me with fitted button downs and pencil skirts. I’m sure my uncomfortable posture, constant awareness of how constricted I felt, and constantly needing to adjust my clothing to feel comfortable diminished my overall “polish” even if I looked put together.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Button downs and a big chest… oy. I’ll never be able to wear them unless I have a camisole underneath and can simply button it to under my chest. Circle or A- line skirts fit much better than pencil, too. Knee-length or an inch or two above it pants BELOW the ankle (twitchy about this because 34 in inseam is dang near impossible to find!).

        2. Zoe*

          I cannot recommend eshakti highly enough for custom clothes at a very fair price. You will never know how nice you can look until you have on a garment that was made for you. They will make a dress or blouse to your measurements, and you can choose neckline, length, sleeve length and more. It’s not much more expensive than buying off the rack, and all the garments have great details like bra strap stays and big pockets. Get someone to help you take accurate measurements, and do the optional ones too, not just bust waist hip height.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Also on belts: If belt loops are visible in your outfit, wear a belt.

      If you’re wearing a button down shirt, check the length and cut of the shirt. Different body shapes look more polished in different cuts. In general, my understanding is it should lightly touch the sides of your sides, otherwise it’ll come across as fitting wrong. If the shirt is untucked (which I think is fine for business casual), check the length. Usually I like the bottom of the shirt *above* mid-thigh or just below the waist, otherwise it should probably be tucked into your pants.

      1. Fran Fine*

        Also on belts: If belt loops are visible in your outfit, wear a belt.

        THIS!! It’s such a seemingly small thing, but it really does make a difference.

  11. Norra*

    Color matching! Obviously brush your theet and comb your hair but color matching can also get you far. If you have green shirt, plum jacket and beige pants you might appear more disheveled that say, plum jacket with dark grey shirt and black pants. While checking color make sure that one outfit is either cold tones or warm tones. Occationally they match but main guide line, stick to either cold or warm.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Also learn what colors look good on you. I wear a lot of royal blue because it looks GREAT with my skin tone, but anything orange or yellow just does NOT look good on me.

      1. fantomina*

        Which, for the record, can be as easy as just paying attention to compliments. Whenever people say “that color looks so great on you!” take note.

      2. Empress Matilda*

        Definitely. Lots of people wear mostly black for lots of reasons – there’s nothing at all wrong with that, but it’s not necessarily everyone’s “best” colour. Some people look better in jewel tones, some people look better in pastels or autumn colours. It takes some practice, but for me it’s definitely worth not defaulting to black all the time.

        1. Cafe au Lait*

          Jumping onto this comment—black doesn’t need to be your neutral. I made my neutral color brown. I work in public service and it’s very important to me that I appear approachable.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. Charcoal is often a really good color on older people with grey hair where black can look washed out.

          2. Fran Fine*

            My neutral is brown as well. There are so many different brown tones that work well with just about everything if you have an eye for colors and pairing (I do). Blush pink is my second favorite neutral in lieu of black.

        2. Miss V*

          I’ve got a closet with dark navy blue! Black looks so harsh on me but a navy blue, even one that’s almost a black, is just a touch warmer and looks so much better while still acting as basically a black.

  12. Smithy*

    Speaking as a woman who took a long time to really find my groove in business casual, there were two key elements that really helped me out.

    The first was finding clothing, cuts and styles that I found easier to keep unwrinkled or had a very specific intention to have a wrinkled fabric texture. Given the nature of my chest size, this ultimately led to me no longer trying to bother with fitted button down shirts and lean into different fabrics. Also identifying business casual dresses more so than separates. They were more likely to lay flat on my body.

    The second was finding a few items I could lean into that emphasized work style. I wear my hair up a lot, so earrings were an avenue that I found easy to add a touch of “putting in effort” and increase an overall effect of an otherwise pretty basic work outfit.

    1. Anonym*

      Seconding dresses (if that’s your style)! A dress always matches itself. No thinking needed. Kinda same for suits, though you need a shirt.

      1. Smithy*

        “A dress always matches itself” is so true. It goes to that line about how suits should always be cleaned together so that the colors fade/change in sync.

        As a woman it can be very easy to rack up a bunch of black/navy separates that get laundered at different times and can start to subtly no longer match one another. A dress can be a very easy one n done choice.

      2. Metadata minion*

        Yes! My workplace is on the very casual end of business casual so I usually go for whimsy rather than polish, but I love that I can wear a knit dress and look all **fancy** when I am wearing what is structurally a somewhat more tailored nightgown and didn’t even have to find matching pants.

      3. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I often get compliments on my dresses that I look so “dressed up”, but really it’s way easier for me to put on one clothing item in the morning! Plus I find dresses to be cooler in the southern summer heat.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          All of the above, and especially about the southern summer heat — I basically refuse to wear pants from Memorial Day to Labor Day, because it’s just too hot and humid. I’ve also found that too long of a dress will trap heat underneath, so it’s knee-length or just-above knee-length for me.

        2. Artemesia*

          Dresses are also great for people with ‘hippy’ body types and garments without defined structured waists may look terrible on people with slender waists but wide hips.

          1. Moryera*

            Narrow-waisted and wide-hipped here, and oh my gosh yes. I could spend a whole day shopping and STILL not find a pair of pants that doesn’t gap at the back of the waistband…or I could just wear a dress/skirt, which also (as mentioned by so many commenters above) tricks people into thinking I’m dressed fancy.

          2. Fran Fine*

            They’re also great for people with boney legs – fit-and-flare dresses do a fantastic job of drawing attention to my small waist while adding a little heft to the bottom that, from a distance, makes it appear that my legs are normal-sized.

      4. Sleepytime Tea*

        I love that dresses are a complete outfit. My ex used to say it meant I was lazy. I call it efficient. All I have to worry about is matching shoes. I always feel more put together when I’m wearing a dress.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s a lot of why I wear dresses: that and a pair of shoes is a complete, polished outfit, and you’re done!

        2. Esmae*

          I call it working smarter, not harder. Especially when it takes so much effort to find nice pants that actually fit properly.

      5. mf*

        This is why I tend to wear mostly dresses when I travel, both for fun and for business. I can do 2-3 weeks overseas in a carry-on if I wear dresses every day!

          1. L'étrangere*

            I can live in perpetuity out of a carry-on, without ever wearing a dress. Everything has to go with everything else, plus a few scarves. Done.

      6. Cookie D'oh*

        I wear dresses all the time in the summer. I’ve found the Lands End fit and flare style works well for my body, so I’ve bought multiples of them in different colors/patterns. I also like the Old Navy jersey swing dresses, but unfortunately I didn’t see too many when I checked their site recently. I WFH now, but before my work place was casual enough that I could top the dress with a denim jacket or cardigan.

        1. voluptuousfire*

          +1 for the Old Navy swing dresses. Throw a long cardigan or fitted blazer over it, leggings or opaque tights and a knee-high boot (like in a riding boot style) and you’re good for a business casual office.

          I quite often wore the long cardi/swing dress/leggings/boots to work during the winter. They were great if I felt a little meh about my body that day.

      7. Fran Fine*

        I used to live in fit-and-flare dresses, even in the wintertime, a few years back. They were easy to slip on when I (inevitably) woke up late and needed to rush to work, and I never had to iron them.

    2. Long Furby*

      I live in dresses! One piece to keep nice (two if I pair it with a cardi or blazer) and you can wear comfortable bike shorts or tights underneath. I’m often complimented on how well I dress considering I bike to work – the secret is dresses! They automatically read more polished. I also have a pair of mary jane style flats that live at work, so they always look nice and don’t get too scuffed.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Yes! And there are lots of companies now which are making shorts specifically to wear under dresses, either for modesty reasons or to keep your thighs from rubbing together. Thigh Society is my favourite – they have been an absolute game changer for me.

        1. Artemesia*

          I had a small child 40 years ago who insisted on wearing dresses and so I had to really search for appropriate underwear so she could hang upside down on the bars, do cartwheels etc without concern about her unders showing. It was not easy to find little knit garments to cover the underpants. NOW with my granddaughter who also only wears dresses, it is easy as there are all sorts of little knit shorts, bike type shorts etc made specifically for little girls to wear under dresses. Plus the skort is also easy to find. Similar garments are now made for women — I have worn bike short type things over my bathing suit for ages after discovering it kept my thighs getting burned while snorkeling.

        2. Allegra*

          Gotta put in a pitch for Jockey’s slip shorts, too! Inexpensive, accessible, super great.

        3. Mimi*

          I got some shorts leggings at Target that I really like. They’re long enough that they don’t roll, which is an issue for me with shorter ones, they’re 100% cotton, and they were cheap! We’ll see how well they last.

      2. Christy7h*

        Yes this. Dresses. Just found one that I love (machine washable, fits great off the wrack – which is rare, I’m short and curvy) – and I bought it in 4 colors/patterns since I’ve been back in the office. I mix and match cardigans on top and ballet flats, and wear 2 each week, alternating with my other outfits. No one notices it is the same dress.

      3. ErinWV*

        Keeping your nice shoes at work is a trick I have utilized for years. If you commute by bike or by public transport, you can come to work in sneakers, toss them in a drawer (I like to keep a stick-on air freshener in the drawer), and throw on your dress shoes. I usually have two pairs, one heeled, one flat, living under my desk. Also works in the deep Midwestern winter when I prefer to tramp everywhere in snow boots.

        1. Artemesia*

          You should always have shoes at work that let you walk a couple of miles easily in case of disaster. On 911 there were women escaping Manhattan walking for miles in heels or barefoot. And if commuting just having the work shoes in the bottom drawer makes this easy.

          1. Fran Fine*

            This is where Tieks come in handy. I keep a pair folded up in my purse in case my heel breaks (because I’m usually in heels).

        2. SarahKay*

          Definitely this! I walk to work in sturdy comfy flats, and then change into smart shoes – I have a pair of navy and a pair of black which both live under my desk. I also keep the relevant polish / brush / cleaning cloth / suede brush (depending on what my current work shoes are made of) for them at work so they stay smart.

    3. Galadriel's Garden*

      Ponte pants, ponte dresses, ponte blazers…all ponte everything for me, apparently, because I’ve found that it tends to remain robustly wrinkle-resistant and will hold its shape throughout the day. I’ve shoved all of the above items into a suitcase haphazardly and had them coming out looking like they were on the hanger, and any minor creasing resolved itself by hanging it up in the bathroom while I showered. Upon further review, all of my favorite work blouses are 100% polyester, largely for the same reason.

      1. fantomina*

        Yes!! Me, too. I replaced all of my blazers with ponte knit ones, too. In addition to the wrinkle-resistance, it’s so much more comfortable!!! It probably wouldn’t fly in a more formal office, but for business casual it’s great.

        And my blouses are mostly rayon challis or viscose– it’s light and drapey and better flatters my shape. I find that larger women (like me) often default to super stretchy loose knit shirts in workplaces, and they look like they’re literally dragging/sagging. So ponte knits for anything that needs structure (skirts, pants, dresses, blazers) and rayon challis for blouses for me.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Torrid’s ponte pants were a game changer for me. Stretchy pants that fit my apple shape and look very work-appropriate? They’re my uniform now.

      3. Damn it, Hardison!*

        I love ponte! I just bought 2 pairs of Vince Camuto slim leg tech ponte ankle pants at the Nordstrom anniversary sale and love them. J Jill usually has ponte tops in the fall.

      4. mf*

        Yep, ponte is great. A lot of people look down on fabrics that aren’t natural, but I actually find that synthetics tend to wear better and wrinkle less. Plus any fabric that looks good straight out of the dryer (no ironing or steaming required) will make it easier for you to polished every day.

    4. quill*

      Mascara and earrings: the two things that signal I am about to leave the house for reasons other than simply getting exercise or going to the store.

    5. Nicotene*

      Strongly seconding earrings. I always look a little plain and rumpled but I bought several pairs of most statement earrings (just bigger and nicer-looking than what I had, not actually expensive – not like, little studs or small dangles, but something a bit more substantial) and I think that takes me from 50-100 as long as I de-frizz my hair a little. Pulled back ponytail with some gel + statement earrings is suddenly Quite Posh.

    6. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I love business casual dresses, a simple pair of earrings, powder & lipstick for minimal makeup, and hair smoothing cream to keep flyaways down.

      I had a very sad realization about a bunch of expensive (to me) dresses that I bought from Universal Standard: I have a large bosom, and I tend to drop things on myself, and those dresses are all made of natural fibers that really hold onto small stains. They fit and look great, but I have ruined every single one of them with small stains that are front-and-center with no way to hide them. All my cheaper, synthetic-material dresses — the stains never set it; they come right out.

      1. ArmyOfSkanks*

        I have the same problem, even down to the stains on Universal Standard; if you still have said dresses, give Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover (the bottle, not the spray) a try! I got mine at Joann Fabrics, but it can also be found on Amazon, I believe. It’s the best thing I’ve tried to take out those spots even after they’ve been through the dryer.

      2. L'étrangere*

        Look for “laundry stain remover stick” on amazon and get that red type on white generic thing. It used to be blue, called “magic wand” and sold in fabric stores. Whatever, it’s never failed me in decades of dropping all sorts of things on myself, no matter how well-established the stain

    7. CTT*

      Where dresses really help me is that I’m not trying to keep a shirt tucked into pants or a skirt. I’m wearing a shirt that is not staying tucked in today and I feel so Off.

    8. raaaleigh*

      I’ve had the same experience with earrings! The right earrings can seriously level up your outfit.

      Also, if you’re into heels (big if, but personally I like wearing them to work when I can), the right pair of heels can add an extra bit of polish to dark wash jeans and a neutral tee (+/- blazer). Even more casual heeled sandals still give off an “I put effort into this” vibe that you can make work for you if you’d rather keep it chill and basic.

    9. Marika*

      So, speaking of earrings…

      They were the bit that got dropped when I was rushing – you know, pick a pair, put them in, fiddle with backings; that’s a few minutes I can use for something else – and then I was in a meeting where we were discussing teaching professional conduct and appearance (we teach communications at the college level and ‘not looking like you rolled out of bed’ is something we teach) and a male colleague said “I’m just going to ask – if you’ve got your ears pierced, why don’t you wear earrings? It kinda looks like you can’t bothered”. It was honest curiosity, and it kinda shocked me, so I asked my husband that night, and he wondered the same thing – so I polled my male friends, and most of them noticed it too.

      I didn’t know what to think about that… and then I had a chat with a friend who has a bunch of piercings said “You think I think about mine every day? Seriously, just go to a piercing place and get some flat-backed studs”. I found a place I liked and that treated me well, and I bought a pair of rounded opalescent studs with flat back fittings. They look good with everything and because they’re flat-backed, I can sleep in them. I literally wear them for weeks on end – making sure I rinse any shampoo residue carefully when I shower – and it’s an easy ‘look more put-together’.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        This was the hot tip I needed — as I sit hear with my pierced ears and no earrings in because I forgot to put them in this morning. I don’t like to sleep in them because they poke me when I turn my head a certain way. I’ll be looking into this flat-backed studs situation.

        1. Cedarcatt*

          I wear teensy silver hoops that connect inside themselves to make a solid hoop (I hope that makes sense) so there’s no pointed parts. I wear them for weeks or months at a time, and bonus they don’t hurt when I’m on the phone.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Oh yeah! I forgot about earrings like that. I had a pair that were my favorite, and I accidentally left them behind in an AirBnb rental about a year ago.

      2. Smithy*

        I also have a large number of piercings in my ears – and for the majority, I have the flat backed titanium earrings you get at a piercing place (and don’t even need to take out for surgery). However, for the piercings that I enjoy mixing things up with – you can go on Amazon and find flat backed earrings that you can “set and forget” but also change yourself when you want.

      3. THE BOBO*

        I was a late bloomer and only got my ears pierced 5 years ago (in my late 30s) when my husband gave me a pair of diamond stud earrings. I have never taken them out. Never.

    10. Quinalla*

      Yup, I agree that fit of clothing and styles that worked for me was a big one and accessories that added that little extra was the next thing. I wear earrings and necklaces most days when I was going into work. For me, that was like putting on make-up (I don’t wear make-up), putting on jewelry was that finishing polish touch. Sometimes I will do a scarf, but most of my outfits a scarf doesn’t work.

      For fit/styles, finding Lane Bryant & Torrid were huge for my body size and shape. Not everything at those places works of course, but I could actually find stylish clothes that fit instead of weirdly shaped, ill-fitting garments at department stores, etc. I used to be a huge fan of Eddie Bauer too, but I’m on the high end of their sizing now, stuff they don’t stock in stores, so meh on that for me now.

      I also make sure my shoes look nice. Polished if polishable, clean and in good condition if not. My feet are a mess (flat feet, planar fasciitis, narrow feet but big size, etc.) so I tend to find a shoe I like and keep it a long time. I also buy a lot of men’s dress shoes because of my shoe size, you can’t typically find heels, but there are some really nice men’s shoes! When I need new heels (which isn’t often, cause heels just mess up my feet more) I go the order 12 pairs from zappos route and return 11 :)

  13. LilyP*

    I mean, do you NEED to look polished? Assuming you’re clothes aren’t egregiously torn/stained/baggy/etc it sounds like your office is probably one where it’s fine to just look plain/normal while wearing business casual clothes.

    If that doesn’t sound right to you, I’m sure others will have a ton of specific suggestions. I’d also recommend just getting very analytical about what you’re seeing and why it’s giving you a certain impression — what, specifically, looks “disheveled” when you look in the mirror? Or what, in detail, is your coworker wearing that looks like how you want to look? What details separate how polished-Ellen dresses from how sloppy-Sue does?

    1. Save the Hellbender*

      I also feel like “polished” can have implications about body type, race, gender, and age! I feel like I’m always going to feel less polished than my thinner colleagues, and that being a woman and young makes me over self conscious about my appearance at work.

      1. Artemesia*

        It is more important to be ‘polished’ if you are not the stereotypical thin young thing IMHO. That is why it is so important to know your own body type and what is comfortable and fits without constant adjusting and tugging on you. There is nothing so confidence boosting as an outfit that stays put, doesn’t wrinkle or have a top that pulls out, and bra straps not constantly falling down or creeping out etc. Find stuff that works for you that you can put on and forget about. I have known many women in the workplace who are substantially overweight or have various difficult figure issues who always look sharp because they dress for their shape and make sure their clothes fit, are clean and pressed and they accessorize modestly but professionally.

        1. Save the Hellbender*

          I agree and I think all the advice on this thread is good. I guess I’m just bummed that appearance is a factor at all in work.

          1. TechWorker*

            I agree, I feel pretty lucky to work somewhere where it doesn’t matter much (at least at my level, I think it does once you go up a few or are doing regular client meetings).

          2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

            I do get you, to some extent, but judging people by the way they dress is at least way more logical than judging them by their bodies. Clothes are choices, bodies are born, you know?

            Also, clothing is a very effective way of communication and self expression, consciously and unconsciously. Asking people not to read messages into other people’s attire would be asking them not to read the intentional messages as well.

            1. Archaeopteryx*

              Agree, plus, while some people might not enjoy looking “professional” or “sophisticated” (e.g. if your personal style preferences are hard to the direction of “cool” or “casual” or something in that line) – no one enjoys looking *disheveled*. It’s not a powerful way to look, and whatever style category you’re trying for, looking disheveled means you’re not quite sticking the landing. So advice on how not to look disheveled is really valuable for the vast majority of people.

              1. L'étrangere*

                Actually it depends where/how you work. I figured out long ago that my natural tendency is “rumpled” and it’s served me well, in tech. I wear well-fitting natural fibers, good durable fabrics, pants and high necks so I can move easily, no makeup, good short hair, interesting glasses. Ostentatiously not ironed. A vague layer of academic credibility, nothing too far from the boys, but not looking like I slept in this. Helps if you want to be seen as real brains rather than management wannabe.

        2. Fran Fine*

          I have known many women in the workplace who are substantially overweight or have various difficult figure issues who always look sharp because they dress for their shape and make sure their clothes fit, are clean and pressed and they accessorize modestly but professionally.

          So you’ve met my mother then.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      I think OP is looking for a way to feel more confident. And clothing/appearance can help with that. Yes, analyzing “why” she feels this way may also help (and I have done this at length this last year and a half), but the conclusion may still be that she wants to add an extra polish to the way she presents herself to the world.

    3. I'm just here for the cats*

      No they may not NEED to look polished but they WANT to look polished. There is nothing wrong about wanting to bring your appearance to the next level.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      This is a good question. What is it about your look that feels “unpolished” to you? What do you see in other people and think “I wish I could achieve that?”

      1. LipstickLover*

        Just here to say, as someone who loves clothes, fashion, and all the stuff that goes with it (and is not model thin, btw)…confidence is 50% of it. I wear some bold colors, or cuts, statement pieces, etc and get away with it because I project confidence…I am wearing the clothes, the clothes aren’t wearing me. And confidence in fashion can be learned, it’s not a skill people are born with. Get someone who will tell you the truth about what colors “pop” on you and flatter you best, and be honest about the ones that don’t. Don’t wear drab colors that aren’t flattering (I don’t mean muted necessarily, I mean colors that don’t look good on you). Experiment with different fits and styles, and observe the way fabric drapes. Is it highlighting all of the areas you don’t want highlighted? That probably isn’t a good cut or fabric for you. I don’t wear jersey fabric, for example, because it seems to put an unnatural spotlight on every little unseemly bulge. I do wear silk, cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, and blends of those things. Occasionally something synthetic, like a polyester mock silk piece with a decent drape. I also do a lot of thrift shopping/consignment shopping to get pieces that are my style at a discounted rate. My cashmere collection is insane, but I bought most of it at a goodwill or other thrift store, or on crazy discount, and keep it well maintained. Go for “fitted” over “tight”…if you have a defined waist, look for things that nip in at the waist to highlight that, but not so tight that it looks like you’re going clubbing. I have a defined waist and I will never be able to wear those super fun 60’s style shift dresses. Sigh. I second the poster who mentioned what not to wear – there are some great starting points for how to highlight your best feature, depending on your body type. People always tell me I look good in everything I put on, and I tell them it’s because I don’t put on anything I know doesn’t look good on me :) I have limitations and I’m ok with them.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      Oh I also think I always look disheveled too, and I love fashion and clothing.

      >I’m always too hot.
      >I’m short, fat and round. I never look svelte.
      >All dresses make me appear pregnant and shorter.
      >It’s hard to find clothes that fit a D size bust but short arms—long sleeves are miles too long.
      >Blazers don’t do much to give me authority or polish, they just look like more bulk and are too hot! How people wear a long sleeve shirt under them I can’t figure out.

  14. EngGirl*

    1.) Make sure your clothes are wrinkle free
    2.) Make sure your hair/makeup (if you choose) is relatively understated and well maintained. A sleek ponytail looks more put together than hair that’s down but messy.
    3.) make sure the tones of your outfit match. Black on black is sleek, but two different shades of black can look messy
    4.) carry yourself with confidence. I feel like half the battle is attitude

    1. AY*

      I agree with your point #2 in theory, but I have very curly hair. A sleek ponytail is not really an option for me unless I want to spend a lot of time on my hair (I am not willing to do this). My hair is always clean and pinned away from my face if I have meetings and don’t want to be touching my hair. Professional hair can be a wide variety of things that aren’t sleek or smooth.

      1. eallison*

        Seconding this!
        I am sure that was not what the commenter intended, but yeah, I am not sure my hair has ever been in a “sleek ponytail” and I am not sure the humidity would allow it even if I tried. The best I can do is try to make sure my curls are looking as good as possible and then just hope for the best :)

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I have fine, wavy hair. The flyaways around my face are impossible to control without plastering them to my head. As long as I don’t look like I just left the gym, I let my ponytail do what it’s going to do. There have been a few humid days where I’ve gone to the restroom and seen myself in the mirror and DEFINITELY needed to redo my hair, though. The flyaways were inching into just-stuck-your-finger-in-a-light-socket territory.

          1. Jess*

            I have the same kind of hair and I really struggle getting it to look “professional” :(.

            1. Esmae*

              You may have already tried this, but finding a good leave-in conditioner was a game-changer for me and my flyaways. Even if I leave my hair wavy, it helps keep things looking intentional instead of like I just didn’t have time to do my hair that morning.

      2. SoAnon*

        Thank you for saying this. My hair has some texture and I’m not willing to do costly, time-consuming, and potentially damaging processes to it to make it straight. And, like you, a ponytail doesn’t work well. Clean and neat is professional.

      3. Junie B. Jones*

        Curly haired folks can absolutely do a “sleek ponytail”! You just need a boar’s hair brush and some water and maybe some light gel to slick it down, but it can be done. There are tons of tutorials on YouTube if that’s a look you’re interested in.

        1. ceiswyn*

          Nope. My hair is too fine and breakable – trying to put it in a ponytail always resulted in a halo of short frizz around my face. The only way anyone ever got it to look ‘sleek’ required twenty pins and hairspray.

          There are solutions to this, of course, but a sleek ponytail genuinely isn’t possible for everyone.

      4. mf*

        I don’t think EngGirl’s point was that you have to do a sleek ponytail. It’s more the general principle: hair that looks intentional but unfussy tends to look the most professional. Curly hair pulled back in bun or low pony can totally meet this criteria.

        1. EngGirl*

          That was in fact my point lol. I actually also have some texture to my hair and I find pulling it back in some ways looks waaaaaay more polished than when I leave it down.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Yes, they’re saying that a nominally more casual hairstyle (ponytail) that’s kempt looks better than hair that’s down or more formally styled but messy.

      5. Constance Lloyd*

        My hair is unruly and does poorly in humidity, something of which there is an abundance where I live. I’ve found that allowing it to BE unruly (a la Janis Joplin, honestly) looks more polished than trying to force it into a style it can’t pull off. Part of making that hippy look translate to in-office polished is making sure my face looks nice. I don’t wear heavy makeup, but I throw on some tinted moisturizer to even out my skin tone and swipe on some light mascara and possibly under eye concealer. All of this is of course exceedingly optional, but I personally feel more put together when I trick people into thinking I have “nice” skin and eyelashes that aren’t invisible.

    2. 23&me*

      Hair is definitely very high up in the professionalism ranking for me as well- for both men and women! (Jim’s haircut from The Office anyone?). Neat hair makes a huge difference. (Caveat here so that I’m not misunderstood: curly hair is professional hair and black hair styles are professional. “Neat” here is only meant to convey “doesn’t look like you rolled out of bed 2 minute ago” not “adheres to antiquated white ideals regarding hair styling.”)

      1. EngGirl*

        That’s exactly what I was getting at! Sometimes it’s a bun, a braid, a headband, or a ponytail for me. One of the easiest and best looks for me personally has been twisting the hair at the front of my hairline back and doing a kind of half up thing. It takes two minutes and works with whatever my hair is doing that day.

  15. Lyudie*

    Smaller things can make a difference…tucking in a shirt, subtle accessories, avoiding wrinkles as already mentioned, ensuring clothes aren’t stained or have holes. Jeans that are a darker color and not distressed. Over the years I’ve gradually “upgraded” my comfortable home attire to be more work-friendly…a cardigan instead of a hoodie, scoop neck or V-neck jersey/knit shirt instead of a tshirt, and comfortable loafers instead of sneakers. Maybe looking for slightly more dressy versions of what you already like to wear will be helpful.

    1. Allypopx*

      I think this is smart and easy to follow advice and also lends to another point –

      You need to be comfortable in what you wear. If you feel awkward in a pencil skirt or high heeled shoes, or certain fabrics look nice but you don’t like how they feel against your skin, or you’re constantly worried your makeup is smudging because you aren’t used to it – these things change how you carry yourself and can lend to that less professional kind of demeanor. Find what’s in your comfort level.

      I like bright colors and patterns more than some people and don’t like wearing khaki colored pants because I’m always worried I’m going to sit in something or stain them. You might be the opposite! Find your medium.

    2. londonedit*

      I agree. Today, for example, I’m wearing jeans and a striped t-shirt. I don’t feel particularly polished or put together, but that’s OK because I’m working from home and no one can see me. If I wanted to polish up this outfit, I could do that quite easily by 1. tucking either all of my t-shirt or just the front (a ‘French tuck’) into my high-waisted jeans, 2. adding a chunky necklace in a colour that contrasts with the t-shirt (I have a fantastic yellow necklace with big chunky beads) and 3. putting on a pair of ballet flats, gold Converse trainers or pointed flat shoes. Exactly the same two basic pieces of clothing, but styled in a way that says ‘I’m going for a smart/casual look’ rather than ‘I just took these out of my wardrobe and put them on’.

  16. Shelly*

    I’m female and I found that comfortable, wrinkle resistant, and well fitting dresses were the easiest way for me to feel polished at work. The fewer the items of clothing, the easier it is to make sure everything matches.

  17. Emily*

    The thing that I have always noticed takes someone from acceptable to polished is good nails. They don’t have to have color, but not bitten, shaped, and removing polish when it chips past the tips is a good guideline. I work in a field and have a hobby where my hands get sort of messed up as a matter of course but if my nails are good I think they still look professional.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Totally agree that clean, cared for nails applies to all genders. My personal guideline is that if dirt is accumulating under them, it’s past time to trim my nails; long nails can be professional and polished, they just need to be clean.

        Obviously this applied less when I worked outdoors.

    1. DarnTheMan*

      I turned two of my best guy friends onto these brightening nail treatments; they paint on like nail polish but when dried down have a ‘your nails but nicer’ effect.

    2. Dino*

      Came here to say this. Trimmed and neat nails really pull you together with minimal effort.

      Being polished is often about the absence of little things that cause minor distraction. You want to have things be NOT noticed, yknow?

    3. Daisy Avalin*

      I am always getting compliments on my nails – my trick is glue-on nails, last about two weeks – I work in retail, stocking/cleaning can do real damage to nails/hands – mostly I get mine from Poundland (UK here, not sure if the US equivalent would have that option?). Plus regular use of hand cream, because dry/cracked hands and fingers will make you look like you don’t care!

    4. AY*

      Gel manicures have been a revelation for me. I am a lifelong nailbiter, and I was always the person in meeting who was picking at cuticles incessantly. It was so bad I would be embarrassed to set my hands on the table at meetings or to shake hands. A gel manicure every 2 to 2.5 weeks is now just part of my routine and budget. Having nice nails is a huge visual confidence boost for me. And on the more shallow side, picking out different colors is really fun.

    5. Esmae*

      A lot of nail salons will do a “gentleman’s manicure” that just cleans up the cuticles and buffs the nails, if you’re not into polish. And even just regularly applying cuticle oil can make a big difference — your nail area will look smoother and more moisturized, and you’ll probably get fewer hangnails.

  18. pretzelgirl*

    Clothes that fit well. Meaning not too long of pants, shirt sleeves etc. Getting things hemmed is pretty affordable. I bet you could even post on socials and ask if anyone can hem something for you (if cost is a concern). Pressed or winkle free clothes are good. Tucking in shirts or a french tuck helps too.

    Hair not frizzy, pulled back or styled. Maybe if you haven’t had a visit to a salon, treat yourself before you go back! If not there are some fabulous youtube videos out there on styling hair, quick easy ways to pull it back and out of your face etc.

    I have learned a lot about fit from following some fashion bloggers/influencers. Some may roll their eyes, but I follow women who are my age and body type. I am sure there are some men fashion influencers if you identify as male. Some great female ones (late 20’s and 30’s): Merricksart, CaralynMirand, K8smallthings.

    Hope this helps!

    1. Nicotene*

      I said myself above that I de-frizz to look better but it does also make me sad that this is such a thing – quite a consistent answer. My thin curly hair is just naturally like this, and can still look attractive down if people aren’t too focused on Shiny Smooth Polish all day (as others have said, I also feel like there’s a race dynamic there!). I basically don’t wear it down for work, only pulled back because of this perception that frizzy hair means somehow being disorganized or out of control. So silly of us as a society.

      (Sidenote please don’t come at me with diva curl tips, I do understand that you could wear curly hair down without it being frizzy, but that would be a *lot* of effort and product and it would never look perfectly smooth all day in this heat and humidity. I would rather just pull it back than spend hours on it).

      1. DarnTheMan*

        I’m of the opinion that if the rest of your look is put together, people are less likely to notice frizzy hair. One of the women I work with has the most amazing spiral curls – and they’re quite long – but predictably in humid or wet weather, they go quite frizzy. She’s got a great style though so in some ways having frizzy curls just softens the look a bit but doesn’t look unprofessional.

      2. TX Lizard*

        I feel your pain. I’m more wavy than curly but my hair is fine and frizzy. And I live in what feels like it must be the most humid place in the galaxy. Even if I wanted to spend the money on tons of products, my hair will always be frizzy on some level. I sometimes try to lean in to it and pretend it’s on purpose, especially now that I have a short bob.

      3. Galadriel's Garden*

        Yeah…I’ve seen the frizzy thing mentioned too and it’s frankly kind of depressing. I also have fine curly hair that can become unruly if you look at it wrong, but I also am not going to douse my hair in silicone and damage it with a straightener to make it “professional.” As long as it’s clean and not actively tangly and matted, I’m wearing it curly and down if that’s what I want to wear that day (with caveats). I do the whole curly girl method thing and still have good and bad days, but I’m not chemically or physically altering my hair structure (to say nothing of the undertones that can come along with the notion of “unkempt” hair) – my hair is my hair, the same way my skin is my skin. I will say, my hair doing its thing is most certainly offset by having my makeup done (minimal, but still very clean and precise), clean and unwrinkled clothes free of pet hair (a tremendous difficulty, I’ll admit), and nice shoes. If I want to dress down at the office but my hair isn’t cooperating, I’ll usually slap it in a braid or a bun.

        1. Treefrog*

          I absolutely agree. I work in professional services, at the formal end of business casual, and have a theory that you can get away with having one thing that’s unpolished, for want of a better way of putting it. So I pay attention to shoes, clothes, jewellery, face etc, and while I try to have my curls look nice sometimes they’ll be frizzy and I live with that and don’t let it bother me. Back in the days where I put a lot of effort and money into making my hair straight and sleek (and damaging it in the process), I’d often skimp on makeup but figure if everything else was in place people could live with seeing my natural skin.

    2. CheeryO*

      The half tuck is magic. I swear it instantly elevates the most basic blouse/cardigan combination.

  19. Anonym*

    Fit makes a big difference! I know it’s a pain in the butt sometimes, but getting things tailored really helps. To save $, I like: finding something nice that fits me and then setting up eBay (or ThredUp, Poshmark etc) searches to get several in different colors for cheap, Etsy sellers will often customize stuff, or finding an accessible brand that fits you well and waiting until you get a good sale email.

    Also simplicity! Mostly neutral plus one “fun” item that draws the eye – nifty necklace, colorful shoes, etc. It tends to look deliberate and intentional, which reads as put together, even if unconventional.

    Also – tidy hair. No matter the style, type, or cut. Just tidy, whatever that means for you.

    Finally, I find that a balance of slim and loose tends to work well. If your pants are fitted, loose top. If you’re wearing a flowy bottom, fitted top. Much to the chagrin of my early 20s self, all tight isn’t ideal for a varying collection of reasons, and all loose can look sloppy. (It isn’t *necessarily* going to look sloppy, but in my experience it’s a lot harder to pull off, whereas the slim/loose combo usually works well with less effort.)

    Looking forward to the rest of the thread!

    1. Treefrog*

      We are style twins! I prefer what could be considered ‘boring’ clothes (I like to think of them as simple and well tailored), but with a statement necklace or cool shoes I look put together with minimal effort. I have a pair of red leather flats that look a bit vintage and are incredibly comfortable which are my secret weapon for this.

    2. Caboose*

      Even when it works well, I think all-loose tends to look a little..bohemian? Like, even at it’s most professional, there’s a sort of “I used to be a hippie in a commune but it’s now the 90s and I’ve decided to teach art class at an elementary school instead” vibe.
      And I say this as someone who winds up looking exactly like this a LOT of the time.

  20. McMurdo*

    If you have the space, I’ve found that having one section of my closet dedicated to “I can wear this to work” has both made my life easier in the mornings and lets me see what I need more of. For example, right now, my office is fairly casual, but I used to work in the field a lot, so I have plenty of formal stuff I wore to conferences and interviews, and long-sleeves suited for the field, but nothing in between.

    1. 3DogNight*

      OMG, this! So much, this! The back section of my closet is “work appropriate wear”.
      I’d also say, take a day, try on clothes all day. Find what is comfortable, and looks good. And then don’t wear them to work in the yard (ahem, lesson learned the hard way). Others have mentioned this, also, and I’ve found it helps. All of my work clothes are shades of black and white. I have a couple of solid color shirts that are colorful, and a couple of colored blazers. But having everything being black and white really helps me feel put together, since I don’t have to worry about matching.
      And, the put the clothes together the night before. Don’t do it directly before bed, do it, say, right after dinner. I always regret rushing my choices so I can go to sleep. Bonus, you get more free time in the morning.)

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, this! A well-organized closet makes groggy mornings just that much smoother.

      Also, when I wash clothes, I put them at the far end. If something is staying up front, it means I’m not wearing it and it’s time to give it to charity.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        My closet is on the just-slightly-too-small-for-my-wardrobe end. There are some things that can be packed in there, like dresses or shirts that are more wrinkle-resistant. My shirts and dresses that do wrinkle get more space between their hangers to avoid that. I have a lot groggy mornings and I don’t want to have to iron or steam anything if I’m already running a minute late!

  21. DarnTheMan*

    Tailoring is a big one for me; I’m built in such a way that a lot of off-the-rack pants and skirts can look odd, based on where the waistband sits, so finding a really good tailor who can put darts in the waistband of many of my bottom pieces has been a huge help. Two other things that I do – if you’re okay with makeup, a nice lipstick does a lot to define your face, even if you’re not wearing any other makeup (I swear by liquid lipstick so I don’t have to worry about smudging), and earrings which always seem to ‘dress up’ an outfit, even when I’m wearing a t-shirt.

      1. FearNot*

        I love NYX Lip Lingerie’s line. It is a nude line that stays put and doesn’t make my lips feel too dry (Also: Very Cheap!!).

        For slightly more expensive, I like the sheer colors of Urban Decay’s Vice line.

        The Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick is great for me, too, even though I think it’s aimed at teens.

        And for really classy, Besame lip color (for when you want to feel like a movie star).

        1. FearNot*

          (Sorry, I realized the last three aren’t liquid lipsticks – but the lip lingerie’s are great. I like Too Faced’s liquid lipstick also).

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          The Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick is great for me, too, even though I think it’s aimed at teens.

          It’s pretty classic. I’ve never heard it was aimed at teens.

        3. mf*

          I like Black Honey too, and I’m definitely not a teen. It gives your lips just enough color but doesn’t really scream “I’m wearing lipstick!”

        4. Robin Ellacott*

          Ditto on the Black Honey. It doesn’t dry my lips out OR feel sticky, and the colour looks pretty natural, on me at least.

      2. DarnTheMan*

        I’m hooked on the Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink Liquid Lipstick; they’re not expensive, don’t give me that horrible chalky desert lip feel and stay through anything – I’ve genuinely worn it through a dental cleaning and my lipstick did not budge. For a slightly more expensive options, Tarte’s Tarteist Lip Paint and Stila’s Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick also have really good staying power.

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      I also invested in a good tailor. I’m short so everything is long on me. Proper hems make such a big difference.

      Mascara makes me feel very put together but lipstick is a close second. I like the Maybelline Superstay Matte Ink liquid lip — it’s usually about $10.

      My statement piece for outfits is usually shoes. I invest a lot in them. I keep the rest of my outfit neutral when I wear strong shoes.

      1. DarnTheMan*

        I love a good shoe; I know at my office, the preferred favorite from other people is the lipstick red leather ankle boots I own – I usually wear them with a black dress or jeans so the shoes really stand out.

  22. foolofgrace*

    If you don’t ordinarily, get a manicure. Hands get noticed, especially if the nails are sloppy with big cuticles, etc. You can get a no-chip manicure for $35 where I live and it lasts 2-3 weeks with mostly no chips. I get mine in a sheer pale pink called Bubble Bath that just looks “polished” and classy whereas a vibrant color brings too much attention, IMO. And the lighter colors will look better when they get a bit worn towards the end of Week 2.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      French manicure is also good for long lasting – I’ve also seen it called a “pink and white.”

      1. Sleepytime Tea*

        I swear by french manicures. I always get one before an interview. I feel like they’re natural enough looking that I’m not concerned about bright colors drawing too much attention but it’s still a very polished look that shows you put in effort.

    2. MissElizaTudor*

      Are cuticles really a thing people notice? That seems like such a small detail, and it’s just a normal body part, so I’ve never thought of how my cuticles or other people’s cuticles look. I admit that I’m very unobservant when it comes to other people’s appearances and my own, so maybe that’s part of it, but still.

        1. Forty Years in the Hole*

          When you sit across/beside someone who’s always gnawing or picking or pulling at them…you notice forevermore.
          Thumbs up to all the above; the devil is in the details: A plain top or monochromatic colour scheme with a cleverly tied scarf or shawl (thanks, YouTube!) can bring your outfit to “11.” If wearing a dress, a really wide belt can bring things up a notch (pardon the pun) – regardless of body type. I have some of my mom’s “vintage” brooches and used them on blouses, cardis, blazers, or to fasten the scarves. Or three different but related brooches for a “statement.” No frayed collars, cuffs, hems, (or hems too long/short), threads hanging off buttons etc. The steam function in your dryer – if you’re lucky to have one – is your BFF. Stay away from some linens, silks or rayon – dry cleaning $$ and a wrinkle nightmare.
          I’m retired military – I ironed and polished everything for 35 yrs; I notice. ;)

      1. Llama Llama*

        0 people in my casual office get their nails done. A few of the younger women paint their own nails sometimes (myself included) but we work at an environmental npo and honestly I have dirt under my finger nails more often than not from field work. I really, really think a lot of this advice depends on the office and what “business casual” means to them. There is a huge range with that description. If I wore a blazer to work it would stand out and look weird. Polished shoes? No one does that. I wear dresses and skirts sometimes and that is “dressed up” to the point where I have heard people comment about it “were we supposed to dress up for this event?” I wish there was more information about this person’s work environment so we could target our advice to what their office’s version of business casual is.

    3. Smithy*

      For those concerned with what a gel manicure can do to your nails and the demands of upkeep with those – honestly, just getting a manicure with no polish of any variety can do a lot for the neat/clean appearance. I don’t rate this as the most important step – but for an important meeting/conference – it’s a detail I used to do before I got more engaged with more involved nail options.

  23. Josie M*

    My fallback outfit is always: very smart pants, knitwear on top, in complimentary colours, never fails! I fell back on this when I finally went into the office to meet my (remote) colleagues for the first time.

    Thinking back to when I was at a desk 5 days a week: I bought a fabric shaver for knitwear to whisk away bobbles quickly. I kept a lint roller in your desk to get rid of pet hair. As some of the other comments have said, ironing absolutely makes you look crisper, but also being smart and buying fabrics that don’t immediately wrinkle is the easiest bet – sure, linen is lovely for summer but wrinkle city.

    I also tend not to venture out of safe colours which I think look classic: camel, grey, black, white, navy. Not too much jewellery. Neat hair. You can get away with a lot, really.

    1. Esmae*

      +1 to fabric shavers! I work in a library, so there are cardigans everywhere. It’s amazing what a difference there is between a “clean” cardigan and one covered in sweater pills.

  24. Luna*

    I love to accessorize – simple jewelry (earrings if you wear them, necklace, bracelet, etc. – but not all of them at the same time if you don’t want a busy look) a scarf in complementary colors.

  25. Paloma Pigeon*

    One thing I’ve learned over time: purge your closet of those dry cleaning hangars – they tend to multiply and add to clutter in a small closet. I think some dry cleaners will take them back. Also, I started keeping my sweaters and other ‘good’ tops in the plastic sheaths that they come in from the cleaners and it prevents closet dust from settling on them.

  26. OrigCassandra*

    OP, I’m going to go in a completely different direction here: I suggest that you get some outside perspective from trusted colleagues and/or friends who see you a lot (modulo COVID), because I think there’s a good chance you’re being too hard on yourself. There’s nothing in your letter suggesting that anyone besides you thinks your clothing is problematic! It may well not be!

    1. AGD*

      I think this is a darn good point (could be a spotlight-effect kind of thing) – and also wanted to say that “modulo COVID” just absolutely made my day.

  27. Susana*

    It’s a small thing, but if you wear, say, a T-shirt under a casual blazer (a great look with dark wash jeans or casual pants) get the ones that are fitted, have a tiny bit of Lycra, and are made for a woman’s shape (if you’re female, I mean). Banana Republic has V-neck Ts in a variety of colors that are slightly fitted and have a small amount of Lycra – so they never sag a or look sloppy. I have worn then under suits at work, with a nice necklace, and they really work.

    1. Damn it, Hardison!*

      J Jill’s luxe supima tee is a step above a regular tee, and keeps its color and shape really well. I find they run a bit large though.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Don’t you roast in the blazer though?
      The good quality ones are so hot! I sweat like crazy and get so overheated.

      1. Raine*

        The choice of fabric in a blazer makes a huge difference. I wear a lot of lace/lightweight kimono-type wraps in the summer over sleeveless tops for that reason. Linen, cotton, cotton blend – not wool or brocade or pure polyester – will breathe a lot better.

  28. Ya Girl*

    Not sure about OP’s gender, but as a woman I find that accessorizing makes the same outfit look 75% more polished. Coordinating earrings, headbands, or scarves can do wonders!

    1. Betty*

      Yes! And if you’re into it, big “statement necklaces” can make something pretty simple seem more deliberate, because it’s now a backdrop.

      1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

        Similar effects can be achieved with any sort of statement jewelry – I know a lot of women who do it with bangles/bracelets to very good effect (also serves to draw attention away from the nails, if they don’t like doing much with those).

        Even for men, this can hold be a really useful thing to think about. Watches, cufflinks, and monograms on your shirt cuffs can pull a lot of weight in your accessory department, as can ties, ascots, hats, and pocket squares for further up your body. A matching tie and pocket square has a sense of intentionality that is missing from either when they’re alone.

  29. Eloise*

    As a woman, third pieces are helpful when I wear separates. So, adding a cardigan or blazer or scarf to the mix will help pull an outfit together. (If I am wearing a dress, which I think is the easiest way to get dressed, I will pull it on without additional pieces.)

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      I’m a fan of very simple crew-neck sweater dresses with a scarf. I get to feel like I’m walking around in a big shapeless blanket all day, but the scarf makes it seem like I tried.

    2. Belle*

      I find scarves a really easy way to dress up most outfits. My husband laughs because I have about 15 scarves now and will often rotate then with a plain black blouse and jeans or dress pants (we are allowed to wear jeans at work). In the winter time I will also add a jacket to round it out.

      I struggle with this so I have basically one style of pant and one style of shirt in multiple colors/patterns. This way I know it fits and can throw something together quickly.

  30. BlueberryFields*

    Some thoughts. 1) Don’t buy clothing that needs to be dry cleaned or ironed. Get stuff that doesn’t wrinkle. 2) If you wear dresses, dark solid color swing dresses with a statement necklace and flats are cute, comfortable, and withstand even a crazy commute. Throw a blazer over it and you’ll pump up the professionalism. 3) Hair. However you wear your hair, make sure it’s tame (whatever that means for your particular hair texture). Hairspray works well with my hair and I am always a fan of a low bun. 4) Make a uniform for yourself. If you find something that works well, fits your office, and doesn’t wrinkle–buy three. 5) If you wear makeup, keep it light, but don’t be afraid to throw on your favorite lipstick (I like plum and berry shades).

  31. PolarVortex*

    Find out what sort of “business casual” is running there. My office turns towards the very casual end of business casual. I do nice jeans in a wide variety of colors – black, yellow, rust, umber, eggplant, etc – and then nice tshirts on days where I’m not doing much but being at my desk (plain or arty looking). Button downs/sweaters/etc for days where I need to look nicer.

    Honestly the best thing about the casualer side of business casual is you can get away with colored jeans, which tend to make you look like you put effort in, even though it’s easier than khakis/etc since you don’t have to iron them.

    I assume if your office hasn’t hit the casualness of tshirts level, I’d say just find anything that is comfortable and fits well. Better a plain black shirt/button down from walmart that fits well over an expensive shirt that does not.

    1. Fran Fine*

      I just started getting into colored jeans right before the pandemic hit – they’re really fun and brighten up a look.

  32. Jean*

    Good quality shoes, some plain knitwear in neutral colours (beige, grey, navy) for on top, when it comes to bottoms make sure you’re comfortable, and if you wear make-up go for a rose or neutral lip colour. Bobbi Brown and a few other brands do a great little cheek and lip tint that takes up very little handbag real estate.

  33. RitaRelates*

    I think hair and baggy/wrinkled clothes make someone look the most disheveled. I always make sure my hair looks put together whether it’s pulled back, in a wig, or down ( I am a black natural, so extra effort and products for those days). If you’re a man with shorter hair, make sure it’s combed and in place and facial hair is kempt. And I also make sure clothes fit and are free of wrinkles.

  34. Ranon*

    A good haircut makes a big difference for me- I find it helps to be up front about the amount of maintenance I will/ won’t be willing to do because some cuts take lots of fussing and some don’t.

    Posture is a big one, too, assuming you’re physically able to- clothes hang more nicely if you’re not slouching.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      I was going to bring up hair, too.

      A style that is smoothed back away from the face always says “Polished” to me. Fly aways and wisps can detract from a sleek outfit.

      I personally love my wavy hair and don’t do anything to tamp it down, but I know it gives me more of a bohemian look than a classy updo would.

    2. Llama Llama*

      Yeah this is what I wanted to add too. There is a lot of great info about clothes here but I think (if OP is a woman) that finding a few hairstyles that you can go to that look professional (whatever that means in your office) and sticking to them is a great way to look more put together. Assuming there aren’t huge problems with OP’s clothes I would go for a few nice hairstyles and some accessories to look more polished. And no one has to do this but a nice bag always makes me feel put together. Find what works for you and what makes you feel good OP!

    3. Sambal*

      Yes, completely agree. Also, be upfront with how often you’re willing to get trims. I’m more of a 10-12 week trimmer vs the recommended 6 and my hairdresser takes it into account.

  35. M_Lynn_K*

    I do small upgrades to avoid having to re-adjust my appearance throughout the day. For example, I wear a blazer instead of a cardigan, which for me, always wrinkle and bunch and get caught on my shirt under it. Dresses are super easy because they look nice and it’s just one piece and if I have to adjust it, there is a much bigger problem than appearing a little disheveled! I also wear my hair back so I don’t mess with it or have the humidity make it get poofy. A low ponytail looks sleek, which was affirmed by Alexis in Schitts Creek with her comment about her fashion pony making her look like an impressive lawyer.

    1. Llama Llama*

      When I was in college everyone always commented about how put together and dressed up I always seemed because I always wore dresses. And I was like, jokes on you guys I rolled out of bed and threw this on in 30 seconds. Dresses are the best, so easy!

    2. introverted af*

      I love the idea of wearing more dresses, but I’m so used to wearing pants and shirts with cardigans that it almost feels too easy that I’m like partially undressed – what do you mean I’m done? I only put on one piece of clothing!

      I am also tall so finding dresses that don’t end up way too short is half the battle

  36. Me*

    Find the brands that suit your body. Tailoring is great when you need it, but things should fit proportionately off the rack. There are brands that tend to suit certain body types. Start there.

    Also find your “uniform”. The basic outfit set that looks good on you. For me it’s slacks, a shell and a blazer/cardigan. That’s almost exclusively what I wear. For others they will look best in a skirt/dress combo. Some people look fantastic in button downs or blouses. Figure out what looks good on you and you are comfortable moving in.

    Finally there are now fashion influencers or all body types out there. Look for someone that is similar to your biuld and look at the structure of what looks good on them. I say structure not specific clothes as a lot of their clothes are not work appropriate. But look at the cut of the clothes, wear to sleeves and pants hit. Where is the waist line. What’s fitted, what’s loose.

  37. Gipsy Danger*

    If you wear makeup (which is NOT necessary for looking put together), make sure it’s not smudged, check once or twice a day. Check to make sure your hair is tidy and brush it if necessary.
    Make sure your clothes fit well. Look them over and check for stains, holes missing buttons, and loose threads. If your clothes are wrinkled, give them an iron or sometimes if you throw them in the dryer and hang them up immediately that will get the wrinkles out. If you’re allow to wear jeans, pick a dark wash and make sure there are no holes or frayed threads.
    Make sure your shoes are in good condition, not too scuffed or stained.

  38. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    I recommend having decent, nice looking shoes. Like, not scuffed, not dirty, and not falling apart. If you’re in an office, stay away from the tennis shoe. You can find something that is not a tennis shoe and be worn all day.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        This is me now. My doctor has condemned me to lace up shoes and the ones that are not sneakers are a fortune. He even wrote me a doctor’s note.

  39. AbaxSC*

    Hair-clean, brushed/combed/styled, neatly trimmed. If you wear a ponytail or bun, make it tidy. No “messy buns” or ponytails that have hair constantly falling out or need to be taken down and redone every hour or two.

  40. HeyNonnyNonny*

    I hate to say it, but ironing makes a WORLD of difference in how an outfit looks. I really despise ironing and bought a lot of clothes that don’t *technically* need to be ironed, but it helps. Also shoes, a nice pair of shoes will elevate an outfit, even if it’s simple khakis. Also a little bit of product/minor styling of hair in the morning can help contribute to a more polished appearance overall.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I keep a travel steamer under my bathroom sink. I hate ironing so much, but also hate wrinkles… I just don’t have anything that needs to be pressed in order to look right. Even my button-down shirts are a fabric that doesn’t *really* need to be ironed.

      1. 3DogNight*

        Downy Wrinkle Releaser is my best friend! There are some fabrics it doesn’t work well on, and those clothes go into the purge pile.

  41. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    Oh! Also, if you can afford it, a capsule wardrobe for work is really nice. You invest in solid pieces that can be interchanged with each other with ease. That way, little time is spent in the morning trying to determine if stuff matches/works with each other.

  42. quill*

    If you’re in a jeans are business casual if dark wash and without holes type of place, do NOT get stretch / relaxed / any sort of soft-fabric jeans. Go for colored jeans, like black jeans, instead of dark wash – they’re thicker fabric so they hold up a lot better. Same cut of jeans, same store, same date – and inevitably my blue jeans wear out within 3 months in high bend areas like the knees and the crotch while jean cut pants in other fabrics are still going strong.

    Also if you bought pants and they “fit” but are riding down, the cut may be too tight in the knees or thighs.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      If you’re in a jeans are business casual if dark wash and without holes type of place, do NOT get stretch / relaxed / any sort of soft-fabric jeans.

      I find this confusing. Jeans with a bit of lycra tend to fit better and therefore look less “disheveled.”

      1. RagingADHD*

        A denim with good body and a little lycra fits and looks better, yes. A thin/soft denim with a lot of lycra (like jeggings) looks sloppy.

      2. quill*

        Oh yeah, this is women’s jeans specific. The problem is that even if they fit better, they wear out way faster! Especially women’s pants. Men’s pants you can find with NO lycra, and the addition of ANY stretch material labels them stretch / relaxed fit. With women’s jeans, a “stretch” or “relaxed” jean is going to be two things: much much tighter, and much much thinner. Whereas our “normal” or “unsoftened” or whatever jeans are made of as much lycra as a men’s relaxed fit.

  43. Sled dog mama*

    For me it’s about making sure your hair looks under control. Not like perfectly coiffed or anything ridiculous but just that you did it that day, it’s not a snarled mess and It’s not getting in your way. Even a t-shirt looks more polished with hair out of your face.
    Someone who is constantly sweeping their hair out of their face always looks less polished to me than someone who has fixed their hair in a way that allows them work with it out of the way.
    I feel like I’m explaining this poorly. I’m never going to judge someone for what their hair looks like naturally but it’s what you do with that I’m thinking of.
    Obviously this really applies to hair with some length but even with very short (less than an inch) bed head is not polished. Bed head may be sexy but unless you work in a few very specific careers it’s not professional and definitely not polished.

    1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

      Agreed – someone who is constantly adjusting their hair comes across as ill-prepared for the environment or nervous. Some of this is personal to my quirks, but I cannot wear my hair just down as I don’t like it in front of my shoulders or touching my ears more than necessary. I have fairly long and straight hair, so I have learned a few updo options that look fancy but I know I can do in less than 10 minutes (think French twist or crown braid). This makes it look like I’ve taken the time to really ‘do’ my hair and I don’t have to worry about it getting tangled or stringy during the day like when I have it partially down.
      For those with short hair (above the shoulder, male or female presenting), frequent haircuts make a huge difference. I had a pixie cut at one point and then a chin-length bob and the difference between getting my hair cut every three weeks vs once a month was amazing. Styling my hair took twice as long in that last week to make it look the way I wanted it.

  44. Daisy-dog*

    Jewelry. Whatever pieces you are drawn to. It doesn’t need to be pricey – just shouldn’t look plastic or like it’s designed for kids. It also doesn’t need to be simple. I have a few beautiful statement necklaces or chunky bracelets that really make me feel more polished and confident. Watches – even basic digital watches – can also help.

    Oddly enough, I have sometimes felt like I am too overdressed for the office in my past workplaces. The jewelry was the first things to go and I already felt more casual.

    1. Anonymously Submitted*

      Agree with this. I find that I can easily up-level any outfit I’m wearing by adding a necklace. It doesn’t need to be a fancy or expensive necklace but just putting one on make any outfit I wear feel more put together and polished. I have a rotation of 3-4 that I wear on a regular basis to work.

  45. KK*

    We’re allowed to wear jeans so my go-to has been jeans and a good fitting blazer. Could easily do black or gray blazer and pair with a variety of knit (wrinkle-free) tops, though I also have blazers in other colors as well. I like 3/4 sleeve and collarless blazers to make them feel a little less formal, but I still feel polished.

    1. Evergreen*

      Really want to second the blazer: I find them as comfortable as cardigans but so much more polished. Stores like H&M tend to do really simple, soft blazers for not too much money.

  46. CarCarJabar*

    1. I think this is more of a confidence issue that really what you look like, but:
    2. Dress comfortably and classically. Create style rules that work for you, get rid of any clothing that doesn’t make you feel great. For me, it’s v-neck, jewel tones, wrap style or rouched at waist, comfortable flat shoes. I really like ThredUp or thrifting (hit up thrift stores in the fanciest area of town).
    3. Keep your grooming neat and simple.

  47. Jenn*

    It’s a bit field-dependent, but one fashion tip I live by is: if you’re worried you’re slightly under-dressing, but don’t want to over-dress, dress the one casual step down but choose simple, classic pieces. So for example, if you’re not sure if a t-shirt is right, choose a t-shirt in a classic colour (white/black/a deep tone) that is fitted and has no designs or anything, slacks or in some environment jeans and a belt, unfussy shoes (although as a woman upping the shoes ups the outfit) with a simple necklace or a scarf, nothing too fancy in hair.

    Or, when I was navigating a business casual team in a business formal environment, I tended to wear sheath dresses with tights, pumps, and then thrown on a sweater (casual) or blazer (formal) as required.

    In terms of managing a whole wardrobe I completely agree that if you choose a neutral bottom it can work well. For me, I choose black because that’s de rigeur in my city, and I only buy black pants/skirts/tights/shoes/boots/bags/coats/gloves (I like my brighter hats), and then I select dresses, tops and blazers that coordinate. The only trick with that is two different blacks don’t work if you have an all-black blazer.

  48. Baffled Teacher*

    1) I only use mascara, tinted moisturizer, and neutral lipstick but it really helps. Or sometimes a bold lipstick really helps!

    2) Hard pants hang/fit weird on my apple shape so I usually wear casual dresses or stretchy neutral bottoms and tunics. I look much more put together. This is very Pinterest Teacher Look but maybe it will work for you!

    3) I only wear earrings as jewelry so I have a lot of them and switch them up to accessorize my (fairly neutral) clothes. Studs or small hoops are great if you’re not really into bold earrings but want to polish.

  49. Kaiko*

    1. Spend some time figuring out what your silhouette is, and invest in clothes that flatter it. The difference between feeling smart in a midi skirt and dumpy in a pencil skirt can be enormous.
    2. As others have said, ensure clothes are clean, unstained, well-tailored, and not threadbare. Keep your shoes in good kip.
    3. Invest is good accessories. A professional bag, some interesting jewelry, and cute shoes can elevate an outfit very effectively.
    4. Finding a great hairstyle can also you feel polished, especially when time is of the essence in the morning.
    5. Ask for feedback! Ask friends who work in similar settings about what they wear, and ask them to take a look at what you’re wearing.
    6. I personally think that synthetic fabrics come across as a bit cheap, and knit fabrics scan as a bit casual. Where you can, invest in good-quality fabrics for your garments.
    7. Remember that part of feeling polished is feeling poised. If you walk into a meeting in your pajamas, but you’re prepared, a clear communicator, knowledgeable, and easy to work with, that sends more of a message than any headband or blouse ever will.

  50. Anon (and on and on)*

    Styling your clothing and adding accessories can to a long way! Tucking (or french-tucking) your shirt looks a lot more put together then having it untucked. Even casual clothing looks better with leather sandals, nice flats, or high quality (and clean) sneakers. Earrings and a necklace make the rest of the outfit look elevated. Adding a headband or clip to a messy bun or ponytail makes it look more purposeful. You get the idea! I’m planning on wearing more casual clothing myself when I return to the office (no more dress pants, more t-shirts than polyester blouses, etc.) and this is my plan for still looking work-appropriate.

  51. Mandi*

    Pinterest is great for inspiration about how to assemble outfits from various pieces. I wear jeans every day at my current job (manufacturing plant that requires jeans/khakis and a company shirt even for managers). But when I dress nicer, I opt for solid pants (black, navy, gray, brown) and pretty tops (often a somewhat loose or flowy blouse because of my body type). I think jewelry adds a lot of an outfit too, and can really make you look more polished. Having a nice manicure also makes me feel more pulled together.

  52. Rebecca*

    For me, it’s about the details – groomed nails (whatever that means for you, doesn’t have to be a pro manicure but clean trimmed nails, tidy cuticles), shoes w/o scuffs or stains, and as many have mentioned, clothes that fit properly (again, whatever that means for you…doesn’t have to be a super-tailored suit). The advice about a handheld steamer is good. If you can swing it, regular haircuts for your hair type and style…I go every six weeks and it just keeps my hair looking nicer even though I’m pretty bad at styling my own hair!

    I also like to wear a “uniform” – black pants and a variety of tops that are easy to maintain (I hate both ironing and dry cleaning), a couple of black/navy dresses. It allows me to not scramble for an outfit in the morning and to know that what I’m wearing won’t get too wrinkled or feel uncomfortable halfway through the day. Pulling and tugging on my clothes makes me feel disheveled!

    I’d rather spend more on fewer items and just know I can rely on them. Spending “more” doesn’t have to mean $$$/designer, just good enough quality to make a visible difference (pants/skirts/dresses with proper lining, fabrics that hang/drape nicely, material that holds up to washing, buttons placed properly so shirts don’t gap open, etc). And if you are a person who wears a bra, invest in one that fits well, it makes a lot of difference in how clothing looks and your own comfort as well as how much you are adjusting/squirming.

  53. Anonymous the Third*

    Yes to clothes that fit and are appropriate to your body type. A good haircut will work wonders. Good shoes and accessories can also elevate your outfit. I was able to transition from schlubby grad student to competent-looking adult with one pair of $400 boots and some nice earrings that my mother gave me. If you’re not an earrings type of person, a good watch will serve the same purpose.

  54. Llewe*

    If you’re into makeup, find 1-2-3 things that really make a difference and forget the rest. For me, it’s mascara: really makes my eyes look good. And lipstick (or lip gloss)— that makes me feel put together and complete.
    If there’s time and I need it, I’ll spot use concealer.
    But mascara and lipstick go a long way.

  55. A quiet person*

    Pay attention to some of the websites you buy clothing from if you’re unsure about business casual. A lot of them (like Ricki’s) will mention which tops are fine for work and weekend. I love the kind of tops you can wear to work, and then pop on some jeans when you get home from work. Cardigans can be a great way to dress up a top if you don’t have to wear a blazer to work.

  56. d*

    Try puttingmetogether.com for great info on how to create a wardrobe that works together, with sample outfits, ideas, sales, accessories that work for a ton of outfits, etc. Her concepts work for every size. There is a ton of free information but also she has content that you have to pay for. So far it’s been worth it for me. Good luck.

  57. Lora*

    As someone who somehow spontaneously wrinkles her clothes the instant they leave the dry cleaning bag, I completely understand this. Here is what I did:

    -Find a haircut that really works for you. My hair is wavy, frizzy, uncontrollable and has only gotten worse the more grey hairs I accumulate, and there are very few products that can tame it into a bun with merely wavy/curly bits sticking out. This may require a clip or some other hair accessory not available from the local drugstore, another thing that makes me look a little more presentable – semi-nice clips and hair forks from Etsy and Ficcare. Similarly, simple jewelry. Doesn’t have to be expensive, I live in pearl drop earrings that I paid $30 for at the Unicef store online.

    -Good shoes. Don’t have to be the most expensive ever, but quality counts. Better to have two good pairs of neutral pumps or loafers that really fit and don’t pinch your toes and you can wear them comfortably all day, than $30 plastic things giving you blisters from the discount store.

    -Blazer not cardigan. Doesn’t have to be the nicest blazer ever, my personal favorite “work jacket” is actually a sort of military-ish double-breasted thing with fancy braiding on the chest and sleeves, but blazer not cardigan.

    -Underwear that fits and does not leave visible bulges outside the underwear through your clothes. I have the Huge Tracts of Land myself and getting fitted for a bra that does not create Quattroboob was a big help in not looking frumpy and disheveled.

    There is also a whole category of things which are sexist, ageist, ableist and classist…but do make a difference in whether you are perceived as “put together” “too old” or “frumpy”: cosmetic dentistry, and posture and how well you walk. If you can afford yoga / dance / some other exercise / massage therapy that enables you to walk energetically, gracefully, with strength, and you stand up straight with shoulders back all the time, you will be perceived as much younger than your actual age when you are an Old like me, even if you have obvious wrinkles and sun damage on your face. Similarly, if you can afford cosmetic dentistry to get Invisalign and bleached white teeth, you will also be perceived as at least middle class or upper-middle class – especially if you, like me, come from a working class background where braces and retainers were unaffordable. But, I totally recognize this is not realistic for many many people – it wasn’t for me until I was well into my 40s.

    1. ErinWV*

      Posture and physical movement are definitely parts of this. I am a chronic slumper and thanks to some back and hip problems, I’ve been trying to fix it. I’ve been sitting on a “wobble cushion” which is basically a slice of a balance ball that sits on top of my desk chair and kind of forces me to engage my core. It definitely looks better and will hopefully save me some trips to the chiropractor.

      I have to agree with Lora that most signifiers of “polish” are associated with wealth, thinness, and other qualities of life some of us will never experience. I think the best advice for anybody is to dress your outside the best that you can do on with your resources (fit and cleanliness at least are mostly in your control) and to work from inside out on the rest. I can be quite frumpy, but I am smart, practiced, and confident at my job, and that stands for a lot.

  58. James*

    I struggle with this a bit myself. I’m mostly a field guy, so work cloths for me are steel-toed boots, jeans, and t-shirts–stuff you don’t mind getting ripped or eaten by acid (preservatives in environmental sample bottles are not kind to denim). I also have weird proportions–I’m long and skinny, with abnormally long arms.

    My solution, for what it’s worth, is to have a particularly “look” in the office. Button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves (which hides the bad fit), slacks, and shoes, all in dark colors. It may not be the most polished look in the world, but it’s MY look and everyone more or less accepts it. I also trim my beard and get a hair cut before an extended stint in the office. No one cares in the field–we all get a bit scruffy after the first week, men and women both–but office people seem to get uptight about me showing up to the place looking like a sasquatch.

    There’s another person in my office that does the same. Polo shirts, khaki pants, and deck shoes, every day. I think he has three work shirts he cycles through. Again, maybe not the most polished look (think Jake from State Farm), but it’s his look and we all roll with it.

    In my experience it’s less about fitting in than about managing expectations. If you have a look or a uniform people come to accept it, so long as it’s sort of close to the office norms.

    1. Llama Llama*

      I also work somewhere where we do environmental field work and for the men it’s clean/new Carhartt’s and flannel shirts. Seriously this is dressed up. Maybe nicer jeans and a flannel button down. I don’t think I have ever seen any man that I work with wear a tie or a classic button down shirt, even at our fanciest event.

      For the women it’s a little different, they tend to go a little dressier, especially since most of the VP’s and the ED are women. But there is such a range of what is business casual and it really depends on the sector and, I think, what region of the country you live in (swear to god birkenstocks, flannels, and puffer vests are Vermont dressed up).

      1. quill*

        In my envisci student days it was all about the condition of your pants. Fell down a hill made of mud and burrs in those jeans? Those are now no longer your class presentation jeans.

    2. Data Bear*

      I’m not going to pretend that I rank high on an absolute scale, but I look a whole lot more polished (or at least less unkempt) when I use a little product in my hair. It doesn’t need to be a lot, just enough to keep it in place after you comb it. I suspect the same is true for most guys / male-presenting folks.

  59. Kimmy Schmidt*

    Do you have a friend you can sit down with to help analyze your work wardrobe? Someone honest but kind who will help you assess what exactly is making you feel unpolished. There’s lots of great tips here, but it could be anything from fit to cut to fabric to posture. A new set of eyes might help you figure out what to focus on.

  60. Betty*

    In addition to the great advice above, I’d also say to consider the state of fabrics– a cashmere sweater is great but if it’s covered in pills it will look frumpier. (Buy a sweater shaver or sweater stone) Stained and worn fabrics will also look less polished.

  61. Ohno*

    A tip my wife gave me was to stick to max 3 colours at once – and strangely, it makes a big difference! It looks less busy and more polished. I’m no good with fashion but this simple trick is easy to follow. Boring? Maybe. But it’s served me well.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      I’m giggling. I told my husband under no circumstances was he allowed to have more than 1 pattern. He tried to claim a plaid shirt and plaid shorts “matched” because “they’re both plaid!”

      1. Fran Fine*

        It takes particular skill to mix and match patterns. Your husband isn’t necessarily wrong – two different plaids together can be done – but one has to take into account the size of the patterns in relation to one another, the colors (there should be a common color between them), etc. The average person won’t do this well, but someone with a great eye for style/design could pull that look off.

  62. Becky*

    I find a great blazer makes the most casual outfit look polished. I buy mine second hand (usually thredup) because otherwise the good ones can be crazy expensive. I’ll second the recommendations above – good posture, good fit (with a tailors help if needed), wrinkle-free, limited color palette so it all goes together, comfortable (because your discomfort will show through). Check for scuffs on shoes and make sure your hair and nails are tidy. And choose an accessory or two that shows personality and helps the process feel fun. It sounds like a long list but can easily become second nature.

    1. RetailEscapee*

      This sounds like my formula. And comfort truly is top of that list- which comes down to quss askity and fit fit fit!

  63. Glomarization, Esq.*

    Go to corporette-dot-com. There’s a series of 101-type instructionals down the right side of the main page, and tons-tons-tons of articles. Updated with one or two posts daily.

  64. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Accessorize!!! It’s the cheapest and easiest way to elevate whatever you have on- simple t-shirt and pants? Add a fun statement necklace and that’s what people will notice. Get a few classic, well made/tailored pieces, make sure they’re ironed/steamed, and you’re good to go. Be on the lookout for sales- places like Ann Taylor and Loft have seriously crazy sales, and you can pick up quality pieces for less than what you’d pay at TJ Maxx (sign up for their mailing lists and they’ll send out flash sale notifications).

  65. HenceWhen*

    I HATE clothes shopping, so I love using the free personal shopping service that a lot of stores offer these days. I contact them in advance, vaguely tell them what I’m looking for and my typical size.

    Then I show up and they have a bunch of clothes pulled for me and are there to run to the floor when I need to size up/down. I’ve found them to be very helpful regarding fit and style, and never have pushed me into buying anything. They have also helped to find when I need a piece to complete an outfit or accessories.

    Sure you might pay a bit more but if you actually need to buy clothes this way works great for me.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I like this suggestion because I suspect that someone who often feels unpolished needs a guide to close this gap. There are lots great notes in the comments about choosing better fabrics and fit and tailoring, but many people don’t know – either instinctively or by training – what those things actually look like! Having a (good) person who brings you different items and sizes can help you learn your body and clothes in a way that’s hard to do on your own if you’re not naturally talented in this department.

  66. Forrest*

    Disclaimer: I’m assuming you’re female-presenting, purely because if you’re not I don’t know much about that end of things and do not have much advice.

    First question: how much cash/time/energy do you want to put into this?

    Eventually, all the options will come down to “spend more time or money on X”. That’s fine if you want to do that and it seems worthwhile! But there isn’t really archane or esoteric knowledge to this stuff. Everything boils down to, “buy more expensive clothes / make-up / skincare / get a more expensive haircut / hair colour / treatment”. Even if it’s, “you can get great deals on expensive clothes by going to…”, that’s about how much time you want to spend.

    Personally, I love shopping for expensive clothes on the cheap (mostly by spending ages scrolling through eBay and sale sites) and really good haircuts, but can only be semi-bothered with make-up and not at all with hair styling. So I am at peace with staying forever at a level where I have great clothes and well-cut but quite messy hair!

    That said, if you do want to spend more time / money on this, here are the tips I gave someone who had just entered a sales role and was trying to go REALLY high-end and glossy:

    – more expensive clothes, that fit well, in mostly non-natural fibres, will wear better and look smarter over the course of the day than cotton, linen or even silk in high temperatures. (Very fine wool is the exception, but then you’re talking VERY high-end, unless you are very good at shopping.) Simple shapes and accessories work well. You also need to get the colours that suit you– black + black and white looks AMAZING on some colourings, but on me it would make me look washing out and nearly dead. Figuring out a neutral (black, grey, navy, dark green) that works on you and some accent colours can really help you look put together.

    – is your make-up professional? If you wear no make-up, or your make-up tends to the brightly coloured, slightly goth, messy, pale, etc., that can also look very uncorporate. Ditto cheaper make-up which often doesn’t last the whole day well. The sales colleagues’ “look” where I work tends to be full foundation (and who knows what primers/bb creams/colour correctors underneath), brown-pink blushes, brown/nude eyeshadow and eyeliner, black mascara, nude lip.

    – Nails? My sales colleagues are into very manicured, nude colour nails. If you wear no nail varnish, bite or cut your nails roughly, wear chipped nail varnish or bright colours, it’s going to be off-brand.

    – Hair? Cut, colour, and a style that matches up with how long you want to spend on doing it? Unless you have the kind of hair that falls *every* easily into a perfect style from wet, the polished business look requires some level of styling– blow-drying, straightening or curling. If you tie it back in anyway, use dark/plain clips or invisible bands.

    -Shoes – clean? Newish? Not falling apart or trashed at the heel and toe?

    – bags? You can be the most put-together person possible in the hair, make-up, clothes sense, but if you stagger in with a bag too heavy for you that doesn’t close properly and a handbag and a folder clutched under your arms, you’ll *look* messy. Or if you have a smart handbag and plastic carrier bag for the extra things you grabbed on the way out, the carrier bag takes over. Spend some time thinking about what you actually need to carry, get a decent bag the right size, and go through it regularly to take out any crap that tends to accumulate and make it look bigger/bulkier than it needs to. (Mine always collects children’s knickers and socks, cereal bars, receipts and now, used masks.)

    1. Forrest*

      (Also, I kind of said this at the beginning, but please take this as a list of Stuff You Can Do, but not Stuff You Have To Do– unless you do work in the kind of corporate environment where this stuff is practically mandatory, in which case feel free to calculate how much money/time it would take to spend on all this and resent the hell out of it. There is so much of this stuff that is like, totally fine, IF you enjoy it and want to opt in, but if it’s not your style and every minute feels like work, it’s an enormous drag on our time and energy and it is SO much more onerous on women than men. (The look for male sales colleagues in the team I was describing here were “recently shaven, showered, in a decent suit”. Oh, look, I didn’t even mention facial hair removal for women.) I think it’s really good to make this stuff explicit because there are some environments where it really does feel like a secret code and it can be so frustrating not to have it, but at the same time it’s RIDICULOUS– not to mention racist, and classist, and sizeist, and ableist, etc.)

    2. Esmae*

      IF you want to wear foundation, primer can make a huge difference. It doesn’t take any extra skill — just rub it all over your face before you put your foundation on, and it’ll help keep your foundation from settling into lines and pores over the course of the day, as well as keeping oiliness a little more under control. Just about any primer you find at a drugstore or Target is fine if you’re not doing heavy foundation and contouring.

      This is definitely an IF, there’s nothing unprofessional about your natural skin!

  67. A. Taylor*

    One helpful tip when I was starting my career was always wear three pieces—pants/shirt/jacket or pants/shirt/cardigan. It notches you up on the put together scale. The jacket can be a 3/4 sleeve or light fabric jacket—doesn’t have to be a suit jacket. If you wear a dress, even a casual one, add a jacket or cardigan.

    Not sure if this still applies but I think it might help?

    1. nnn*

      That’s kind of what I came here to post. My #1 tip for feeling polished is “something that alludes to a jacket”. It can be a jacket, it can be a cardigan – on a hot summer day and with certain styles of clothing, you can even sometimes get a way with a short-sleeved blouse over a summer dress.

      You don’t even have to keep the jacket piece on the entire day. Start your day with it on, put it on when you go to shake hands with clients, and otherwise add or remove it as comfort dictates.

  68. ceiswyn*

    Go to a hairdresser that knows what they’re doing with your hairtype.
    For years, no matter what I did with it, my hair looked terrible. It was either frizzy and flyaway or flat and limp, and no cut seemed to make it better.
    Then I finally went to a hairdresser who was able to identify that my hair was not just ‘wavy’ but actually curly, and explained to me that all the brushing I was doing in order to tame it was actually just flattening it to limpness and damaging it. I now have a cut that works with the curl, have not brushed my hair in almost two years, and it looks so much better!

  69. PT*

    The biggest mistake I’ve seen people do at work is do the “checks-off-the-dress-code-boxes” outfit. Like “we are allowed to wear a sweater or blouse and slacks or a skirt but no jeans and any shoes that aren’t sneakers.” And then they end up with an outfit where each individual element meets the dress code, but the whole effect of it is sloppy and discombobulated.

    This can especially happen when parts of your job can put limits on specific clothing you need, ex: you have to change into sneakers for half of your day because of your job duties, or you keep an extra layer in your office because it’s freezing, or from 3-5 pm you have to pull on an XL staff tshirt for Llama Camp dismissal. At which point you’ve modified your outfit with different layers even more and are more mismatched.

    It does not mean this is bad! I have worked jobs where this is just how the workplace operates, where your dress code plus environmental/job duty considerations means fashion is secondary and sometimes you’re going to end up wearing barn boots with dress slacks and an XL Winter Vacation Llama Camp t-shirt over your nice sweater. But on the other hand, they’re easy things to watch out for if you are concerned about looking unpolished during times of your day when you don’t have those duties.

  70. AndersonDarling*

    Discover what colors look good on you.
    For real, when you build a wardrobe with complementary colors, you feel like a rock star every day. I always liked cool tones and edgy colors, but someone casually mentioned that I was an “Autumn” and I started thinking about colors more. I got an orange-red top and it blew my mind. Then I started getting mustard tops. Wow! These are colors I never, ever would have bought before. Mustard! Gross! But it makes me look like a super model.
    If you spend money of clothes, they should look good on you, not on a mannequin.
    And another tip. Only buy clothes that make you excited to wear them. If I don’t say “Wow!” in the dressing room, I don’t buy it. Yes, I have to invest more time in shopping, and I have fewer items in my closet, but it is a joy to get dressed every morning. I’m no longer choosing the best of the worst outfits, I’m choosing anything because they are all rockstar outfits.

    1. 1234*

      As I’ve gotten older, I’m all about only buying clothes that I’m excited about.

      Anything “meh” doesn’t leave the dressing room and if I catch myself going “I guess I could make this work…” it also stays at the store.

  71. RetailEscapee*

    If you present as a woman/ wear women’s clothes, get yourself a few unstructured blazers/open cardigans that are nicer fabric than a cheap sweater, find a pant silhouette you like best, and rotate through with any variety of top. If you aren’t someone who will maintain a manicure/fancy nails, remove your polish and just keep neat. I like menswear inspired shoes because they look clean and a little quirky but still professional, and I’ll never wobble or have a blister but I’m not in Toms. I usually wear a statement necklace and a few bracelets, or a fun earring but not all three. I wear mascara and chapstick because it won’t run or need touch ups, and then no one is so acclimated to me in a full face that I feel obligated to do it daily. And finally, perfect one go-to hairstyle. “Polish” for me means simplicity, quality, and a sense of ease. Like… I’m clean, I don’t have to futz with anything, my hair isn’t in constant need of adjusting, and I look nice but not showboating?

  72. H.Regalia*

    Seconded whoever said lint roller. I have pets and also just shred a lot of hair. I hate being covered in bits of hair.

    Another hair-related one: get a hair finishing stick if you have flyaways. It’s a mascara spoolie that has some product on it that tamps down flyaways and baby hairs. Makes everything look very sleek.

    Oily skin: blotting papers or just use a paper towel. I have very oily skin and degreasing several times a day really helps for looking on point.

    Long hair: learn how to do a bun with hair sticks. It looks very chic, is less damaging than hair ties, and takes like thirty seconds to do once you get the hang of it.

    Have emergency/upkeep stuff with you: baby wipes, a stain remover pen, gum/mints, etc.

    Last one: good posture! Shoulders down and back, stand up straight, engage your core when you walk.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      on the bun — look for YouTube tutorials for “nautilus bun”. It’s a relatively flat bun, which means that the weight of the hair is spread out and less likely to cause headaches. I think the flatness also looks a little more polished than a big sticky-out hair handle on the back of one’s head too, but that’s just me. :) And it works for anything from shoulder length hair to butt-length hair (possibly longer, but mine only goes just past my tailbone so I don’t know from personal experience).

    2. TechWorker*

      *looks down at cream top covered in black cat hair*

      My pets are new during lockdown but I’m not looking forwards to this haha – things seem to wash ok so perhaps I’ll just have to change into my work top right before I walk out the door :p

      1. Treefrog*

        This is basically what I do I wait to put on work clothes until shortly before leave the house in the morning (and I definitely don’t sit down or lean against anything after they’re on), and when I get home at night the first thing I do is take them off and hang them up. I also wash my work clothes separately from my (cat hair-coated) casual clothes and use lint rollers liberally…all seems a lot of work written down, but I really like black and navy work clothes and have some very fluffy cats.

  73. Daymom*

    I wear lightweight sweaters (long or short sleeved) with black pants or well fitted, dark jeans. I think its easier to look more polished in sweaters than in knit shirts or t-shirts.

  74. WonderWoman*

    – Monochrome dressing is really big right now and makes you look SO put together.

    – I have a few brands I rely on for really solid professional staples. They are: J Crew, Theory, Club Monaco, and Uniqlo.

    – I second all the tips regarding caring for your clothes. Learn how to follow care instructions. Invest in a sweater shaver, a lint roller, a garment steamer, and an iron.

    – Learn how to care for your shoes too. The Ask a Clean Person podcast has entire episodes devoted to shoe care.

    – Everybody has challenges when it comes to fit (and everybody thinks they’re unique in this problem.) Find a tailor who can alter your clothes to fit really well.

    – Invest in the right undergarments for your clothes. Depending on what you like to wear, that might mean: slips (very helpful for clingy skirts), bras and undies that match your skin tone (great when wearing lighter colors or thin fabrics), undershirts, camisoles, and underwear that doesn’t cause egregious vpl (I really like Commando brand.)

    – Consider your outerwear (that is your coat or jacket) as part of your outfit, even if you take it off when you enter the office.

  75. Tracey*

    I wear a lot of black; I just think it is the color that goes anywhere and looks put together. I’m plump so if I do wear color I keep it to one area – for example I might wear black pants and a black tank but then have a colorful kimono or cardigan sweater. Also for polish and feeling comfortable that my problem areas are covered I wear tunic style or peplum tops.
    Hair clean and styled and I wear light makeup – nothing dramatic but makeup makes me feel a little more polished.

  76. drpuma*

    Always add a layer. Tshirt + blazer reads more put-together than just a tshirt. Buy 2-4 pieces and rotate through them, you can re-wear between washings since there’s that other layer between them and your skin. There are a lot of options now for unlined knit blazers, loose jackets that tend to get called “kimonos,” stylish open sweaters or more structured cardigans. Any of these are comfortable and let you move while adding that layer that helps you look more polished. Wear them exclusively to work not only so they stay nice but also because before long putting one on will help you get into “work mode” and give off a “work vibe.”

    Also – if you can, let most of your work clothes air dry. A foldable laundry rack can be tucked behind a door when you’re not using it. Shell out for Woolite Dark detergent and use that exclusively for your dark colors. Zip delicate or items made from thin fabric into a pillowcase cover or mesh bag before you throw them in the washing machine. You don’t have to get everything dry cleaned (not even most of the stuff that says “dry clean only”), but taking a little extra care on laundry day helps keep your clothes looking nicer longer.

  77. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    Sticking with solid colors in your wardrobe can help a lot. It can be really hard to find patterns that are consistently complimentary across multiple articles of clothing (unless the articles are meant to be a set). Just worrying about the solid colors can be a lot easier.

    Also, many patterns can have the side effect of highlighting any wrinkles that do form in your clothing over the course of the day, because the wrinkles inherently distort the repetitive nature of the pattern.

  78. T J Juckson*

    The easiest way for me to dress up is to go for good shoes and good fabrics!

    I’ve started wearing a lot more silk, which is much less troublesome than you might think. I’ve got several dresses and tops that can be machine-washed on cold, and even though the styles are simple– essentially just boatneck shirts and a-line dresses– they look much fancier because of the fabric. They also feel really nice and are cool when it’s humid. Elizabeth Suzann (RIP) made amazing, easy-to-wear silk, and Eileen Fisher has some easy pieces, and the sale prices can be very good deals indeed. On the other end, I’ve found weirdly nice “Japanese polyester” (sure?) that also drapes well so simple dresses come off fancier than their cotton counterparts.

    But I’d also echo others in wearing what you actually like and feel comfortable in. I will never look like a polished news anchor– I don’t wear heels, colorful shift dresses, or straighten my quite puffy hair– and if I tried, I’d be miserable and look awkward, even if I was wearing Louboutins and Theory.

  79. jules*

    Seconding all the comments about focusing on fit. If you’re able to, get things tailored.

    Take some time to try on everything in your closet, and see which outfits make you feel your best. From there, you can start trying to put together a “uniform”. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of your outfits will look exactly the same; it’s more about having a go-to look, which can really help on days when you’re not sure what to wear. For me, it’s jeans, a plain tank top, and a blazer/jacket. (Also pretty much everything in my closet pairs with anything else, which makes things even easier.)

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Agreeing with the comments about fit. I’m thinking about a few people I’ve worked with over the years who always looked kind of unkempt and dishevled, and it’s not their clothes. There’s nothing wrong with their clothes. It’s the fit and the condition. They wear clothes that are too big – their pants drag on the ground, their shirts slip off their shoulder. Or their clothes are too small – their buttons gape, their pants slide below their belly and expose their rear end. Even the most casual/inexpensive clothes will look better when they fit right, and even the most formal/expensive clothes will look bad when they don’t. Or their clothes fit well enough but the hems are unraveling, or their shoes are so scuffed they aren’t even brown any more. I know a lot of people can’t afford expensive wardrobe upkeep/replacement, but at a bare minimum you can safety pin your unraveling hem.

      The thing is, most people don’t notice what you’re wearing or how you’re groomed unless it’s exceptionally good or bad. I don’t notice your nails unless they’re cute AF or they’re ragged and dirty. I don’t notice your clothes unless they’re fantastic or you’re one of the people in the first paragraph.

  80. JS*

    I’ve found following @fashionfixmn on Instagram so helpful! She gives great tips on fitting for different body types, how to elevate basics to look polished, and best of all – how to thrift clothes that are actually flattering and fit!!

  81. Yvette*

    You are probably being your own worst critic. Someone else suggested asking a friend their opinion, that is good advice.
    One thing, I used to work with someone who wore very expensive clothes, but, the shirt wouldn’t be tucked in evenly (this was before the front tuck was a thing), the skirt would be twisted, the buttons missed or missed buttoned, skipped belt loops, everything wrinkled etc. I once heard a phrase “She looks like she was dragged through a hedge backward”. This was her. Point is, as others have said being neat is half the battle. You don’t need to spend a lot.

    Inexpensive clothes look more expensive in black. If you order clothes on line, always look at them in a light color first, even if you are not getting that color. You will notice things like seam placement and pleats that might not be obvious when looking at them in a dark color.

  82. Becky S*

    In addition to all this great advice – stand up straight. Good posture looks polished.
    :-)

  83. EventPlannerGal*

    – if you like wearing dresses, lean into that; it’s one piece of clothing that does most of the work in your outfit, and all you then need to think about is shoes and a jacket/cardigan.
    – look for slightly fancier versions of things you’re already comfortable in. If you like cotton t-shirts, maybe try a t-shirt shaped top in a silky material, that kind of thing.
    – I am personally of the opinion that for work, it’s better to wear no makeup at all than to attempt a Look that you’re not sure you can execute. Neat and clean is fine! I keep dry shampoo, a hairbrush, some roll-on deodorant and some concealer in my desk for mornings where I’m struggling.
    – don’t buy clothes you aren’t comfortable in. If you’ve never been a pencil skirts and lipstick person don’t try to become one overnight. Start by polishing the look you have now – neat, clean, ironed/steamed/otherwise unwrinkled, coordinated etc – and slowly introduce any changes once you’ve got that down.

    1. 1234*

      I’m not a dress or skirt kind of person and I legit label them “interview clothes” or “client meeting clothes”

      Even before COVID, my job erred on the side of casual (jeans with no rips allowed if no clients are on site). On client meeting days, I would wear nice blazers and knit pants that are actual pants with zippers/hooks but much more fitted than dress pants. The only “real” dress pants I own are from Betabrand because everything else is too wide/baggy on my legs and hips.

  84. The one who wears too much black*

    From my personal experiences as a cis-het identifying woman, things that have lead people to believe I was “polished” when I actually wasn’t changing what I wore:

    1) styling my hair differently at least once per week. I usually wear my hair up, so this means wearing my hair down at least once during the week
    2) putting on a pair of earrings sometimes. I don’t usually wear jewelry, but keeping a few pairs of earrings in my desk for days when I feel like I just want something extra has carried operation-look-polished-while-dressing-casually.
    3) wearing different shoes each day.

    In my experience, as I got into a rut with how I presented myself, I felt less polished at work. I don’t make special efforts to change how I look necessarily, but I change small things to avoid looking like I just threw on whatever I wanted to wear that day and this subtly changes how people view me in the office for the better. The accessory rotation is what gave me that “polish” that I was seeking.

    Added bonus, I have found this is a really easy advice to replicate for virtual meetings as well, meaning you won’t need to have different morning routines for getting ready on days when you go in vs days that you do not.

  85. Meg*

    I struggle with this, so I’m looking forward to reading the comments. What has worked for me is sticking to things I know I love and look good. I love dresses for this because I don’t have to match 2 pieces and everyone thinks I tried harder than I did. As I’m regrouping for the office return, I’m trying to build a more streamlined, solid wardrobe. I really like Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s idea of a dress code vs. a uniform or capsule wardrobe. I’ll link her article in another comment, but essentially she decided on a dress code–for her, white jeans and pastel sweaters. That feels less restrictive than a specific uniform, and isn’t as small as a capsule wardrobe, but makes shopping and getting dressed easier.

  86. Christy7h*

    Bullet pointing what usually reads as polished to me (for women) – and I work in a more formal environment, so some of it may not apply:
    clothes that fit and are clean, not faded, and unwrinkled (this is a big one. If you manage this, it is great)
    nice clean shoes (I love rothy’s – also machine washable)
    Makeup – if you can do makeup, a swipe of mascara or neutral lipstick can help. When I wear lipstick, I feel put together.
    Hair – combed. If you tend towards frizzies, a product as mentioned above may work. I started using the Revlon one shot (like a blow dryer/brush combined) for the last minute of my 5 minute hair drying and it has done wonders.

    Another idea – do you have a friend whose style you admire? See if they can come over and help you shop your closet/put together a few outfits. I did that once and it was really helpful to have someone else look at my clothes and put stuff together. I took pictures so I remembered.

  87. Urdnot Bakara*

    I’m a plus-size woman who has always struggled with this and I have two easy go-tos:
    1. Cardigans. Throw a cardigan on something more casual and it always looks nicer. Blouses w/ cardigans, sleeveless tops w/ cardigans, dresses w/cardigans, all great. Similar effect to a blazer but not as dressy.
    2. Tuck in your top. Elevates a casual look with extremely little effort! Combine with tip #1 if tucking in your top makes you feel a little self-conscious.

    That’s it! I don’t bother with makeup or jewelry/accessories much anymore but with simple stuff like this I still feel like I look put-together.

  88. Jules*

    Less expensive clothes are generally missing the construction elements that add that level of polish – skirts are unlined, hems are really shallow, inside seams are raw, even the fabric itself is often thinner and has less body. As a result, a dress or dress shirt that otherwise looks the same cut and style as a high-end piece just looks a little less put-together. Maybe it rumples faster, the skirt doesn’t swish in that really in that really satisfying way, etc. What you wear under your clothes can really help! If you wear a lot of dresses, especially fast fashion dresses, a well-fitting slip can make a huge difference. For dress shirts, an a-frame undershirt or a camisole can help too.

  89. LW #1*

    For fall through spring: get a couple blazers or light jackets and rotate them through your daily wear. They add a lot of polish to outfits, as well as warmth in a cold office, and extra pockets for carrying stuff! I feel like this is a trick that men figured out a long time ago and I (a woman) just discovered in the last couple years.

  90. Azumi*

    Seconding doing some planning. I did a 1-hour video session with a stylist, and we really identified some gaps in my wardrobe, formulas that felt the best and most “me” and some new suggestions on how to pair things.

    I think that a great accessory is a really good belt. It’s something small that can really tie a look together. With this and some jewelry, I find that my ‘boring’ outfits are a little enlivened.

    My other big tip is not to worry about having a unique look or repeating pieces or outfits in the workplace. I’ve worn a pair of trousers and a loose button-down very day this week, and I don’t think anyone notices! There’s a kind of eye-skimming that happens when your clothes are ‘office-y’ enough and I find it easier to personalize via jewelry, shoes, and belts than to put a new look together.

    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Oooh, that’s a great idea! I’m planning on cleaning out my closet soon so I can spot the gaps but I hadn’t thought about hiring a stylist for a consultation. Hmmmm…. Is there like Havenly but for clothes out there? Is that a thing? I’d love to be able to give my measurements and style and budget and have somebody suggest brands/stores.

  91. animaniactoo*

    Lots of good advice above – from another standpoint, one thing I found was useful for me was the advice that if you wear jewelry, if you’re wearing more than 2 pieces, take off one piece before you leave. That doesn’t mean you can only wear 2 pieces. It mostly means that we tend to “overdo” it on accessorizing, and taking off one piece brings us back from the step too far that we probably didn’t realize that we hit.

  92. kanej*

    The biggest tip I have is to put together a little kit (make up if you wear it, wipes, etc) to touch up at the office. I commute on public transport and it’s the public transport that usually makes you look disheveled. touch up at the office! it’ll help a lot

  93. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

    Speaking as a woman:
    1. I’ve personally found dresses are easier to look polished than pants because it’s less coordinating and it feels like there are less issues with fit.
    2. If you have long hair, I recommend investing in the Ficcare Maximus clip and learning how to put your hair up a bun or a French twist. It’s a quick, easy style that looks polished and the clip comes in neutral colors like silver, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl that makes it look simple and elegant
    3. Adding an understated necklace or bracelet can very easily make an outfit look much more put together

  94. Alexander Graham Yell*

    So I’m currently in the middle of transitioning to a nicer casual wardrobe and these are the things that have been making the biggest difference for me:

    Blazer-cut sweaters are my go-to. Every office runs cold, but what I’ve found is that blazers feel really formal in a business casual environment. But a blazer-cut sweater? It’s just the right balance of nice/businessy and casual so it doesn’t look out of place but pulls things together well.

    Picking a colour palette and sticking to it. Basically follow the rules of a capsule wardrobe for your workwear and then everything will work together. I can wear jeans at my office, but my base colours are neutrals (black + white + grey + tan) with red and purple as accents.

    Tailor your clothes if you can at all afford it. I swear, it is the thing that makes the biggest difference in my clothes.

    Pay attention to your shoes. A nice pair of flats does wonders for an outfit, and if you’re mostly wearing neutrals you can add some fun colour or pattern in your shoes and suddenly BAM! it’s an outfit.

    1. My Brain Is Exploding*

      Do you have some links to blazer-cut sweaters? I like took the look of a blazer but they always feel too constricting.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        The best one I’ve found is from the JCrew Factory store – it runs big and I actually need to get it tailored at the waist but it’s AMAZING. Nordstrom and H&M usually also have sweatshirt material blazers or lightweight jersey knit blazers. The key search term I use is “Sweater blazer” and you can find everything from Amazon to $$$ luxe brands.

        1. 1234*

          I once had a boss say to me that she thought knit blazers looked “cheap” (I don’t own one and never wore that) but I worked at a fashion wholesaler and I think one of our clients had one in her collection?

          But ever since then, I think back to her comment whenever I see a knit blazer in stores.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I second the suggestion of a “mix and match” or “capsule” wardrobe to make you feel more put together.

      I wear black or dark brown trousers for winter, grey/light tan for summer, and blue, green, and burgundy tops (pastels in summer, jewel tones in winter). Handful of lightweight cardigans for summer (silk or cashmere), lined blazers for fall/winter. Plus a couple of dresses in the same color scheme, which can also pair with cardigans or blazers. I can literally wear any trousers with any top and blazer/cardigan and look like I paid way more attention to my clothes than I actually did.

  95. JustMyImagination*

    I’ve found hair to be the biggest difference for me. If my hair is messy then I feel like I look messy, no matter how my outfit looks.

  96. Ana Gram*

    Something that really helped me was a professional bra fitting. Sounds weird but, suddenly, all my clothes fit better!

    1. Cookie D'oh*

      This is great advice! I went to a Soma store for a professional fitting and it was great. I finally found bras that I don’t want to rip off at the end of the day.

  97. Anony Mouse*

    From being in an industry that often meant I traveled a lot and slept less than I should have (and had more than one experience going to work ill) my advice is:
    1) Dresses. A dress will always read as “more dressed up” than almost any other combination since society has programmed us to think of dresses as more of a special occasion thing. Also, you don’t have to worry as much about matching/coordinating since a dress on its own can be an outfit.
    2) Boldly colored lipstick. I recommend red but any intense clearly not your actual lip color but still work appropriate lipstick will do. It can often make you feel better but also it is great at leading people around you to notice your lipstick and nothing else. I’ve gotten off a red eye and had to meet people in the clothes I flew in without a shower and hair I hadn’t washed in 4 days and because I took the time to put on some red lipstick I actually got complemented on how lovely I looked. Seriously, no one notices anything else if you wear bright enough lipstick.
    3) Earrings if your ears are pierced. As long as they’re work appropriate basically any earring will work for this. My coworkers and I actually shared advice that if you needed to stall a customer for a moment so you could think or metaphorically catch your breath you should brush your hair back behind your ear. You could watch their eyes go to the movement and then catch on the jewelry because of humans innate “shiny” instincts. Works every time.

  98. PolishedPreKTeacher*

    I’m a lead Pre-Kindergarten teacher who has part-time admin duties as the schools toddler-prek Curriculum Coodinator, so “casual but professional” describes my work attire exactly. My school is affiliated with a prestigious Ivy league and located on campus, so any given day, I’m doing a messy science experiment, meeting with University staff and interacting with parents (professors, administrators, college deans etc) and have to find an outfit that can do all three.
    My best advice is to find and pinpoint the exact style and silhouette that you feel most comfortable in that also makes you feel polished (maybe one that co-workers have complimented you on as looking particularly nice in!) and focus on getting 4-6 versions of the items in as good quality, neutral/easy to match pieces you can afford. For me, that is high waisted, wide leg trousers in khaki, linen, or structured cotton, no-iron button up blouses/oxfords and sweater vests, Merino wool cardigans or pull over sweaters, or a tailored casual blazer. I find that those were the items I reached for again and again that we’re also comfortable and un-fussy. Uniqlos no-iron stretch cotton button ups are the best I’ve found for black and white, and their Rayon version in muted colors works well too. Their sweaters are also perfect, but the Amazon brand Meraki has nice ones as well. I think the biggest factors are fit and fabric for taking something from disheveled to polished so I stay away from any overly synthetic acrylic sweaters, spandex-infused trousers or flimsy/synthetic button ups. Having a solid go-to look with flattering items also helps cement your perception by coworkers of someone who is consistently orofesaional, so the occasional wrinkled shirt looks like an outlier.

    1. TX Lizard*

      Where do you look for those kinds of pants? I tend to struggle with what to wear with linen pants so that the outfit is balanced, what do you usually pair them with?

      1. PolishedPreKTeacher*

        My favorites are usually from madewell, old navy and LOFT- but I almost ALWAYS get them from Goodwill or Zulily! I’m a pro thrift shopper, though, so thredUP or Zulily, maybe poshmark tend to be easier if you’re not. I set up an alert from Zulily for madewell, Frye, J. Crew and LOFT and I almost always get a great deal.
        For linen pants, I actually prefer them in a slightly more tailored fit than other fabrics, as the wider versions can look sloppy from wrinkles or unstructured if they’re too flowy.
        https://www.madewell.com/linen-blend-track-trousers-MD210.html
        These pants are great (so great!!) because they are slightly more tailored in a typical “trouser” style but very comfortable and easy. I wear them with a slim fit black mock neck tank top, a knotted neck scarf and pointed leather flats. Throw on an an Eileen Fisher sweater blazer or a lightweight H&M boyfriend blazer and you look so chic.

  99. mkl*

    A few random tips that have worked well for me in the start up world at the Director/VP level…

    1) Totally counter intuitive but I haunt goodwill and consignment shops for white pants and white jeans. Because white pants are a stain attracting pain in the neck, they seem to read as extra fancy and splurgy- but who cares if you’re buying them on the cheap. Pair white pants with a dressy shirt or sweater and a great necklace from Nordstrom Rack and you look super polished on the cheap.
    2) For pants, the high end “athleisure wear” brands have been a business casual godsend and are increasingly better about size diversity. They use enough stretch to avoid wrinkles and look crisp even though they’re comfortable and don’t need ironing. Check out the Brooklyn joggers in black or navy from Athleta, betabrand and the Lululemon work pants. To cut costs, try on in the store to get the fit right then haunt the website for end of season sales and sweep up a pair or two at each clearance sale.
    3) Once you’ve got a crisp pair of white, black or navy pants then you can grab dressy and business casual shirts from most anywhere. If you’re new to the game, go to one of the high end business casual stores on a quiet weekday and ask them to help you up your work game. I’d suggest Bannana Republic, Ann Taylor, The Loft or Nordstrom and let one of the staff help you pick out a few things until you find a style that works. Then shop Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls and Ross 1-2 times a year to restock. Stick with fabrics with at least a little stretch- because they don’t wrinkle you tend to stay crisp looking longer, even after a sweaty commute.
    4) If you have a family willing to go in on a fancy birthday presents, ask for a dress or jacket from MM Lafleur. I’ve never attained such heights myself but that’s the ultimate in comfortable, always chic looking stuff.

  100. CarolineV*

    Hey! I worked at J.Crew about a decade ago, but the things I learned from the personal shoppers when I was 23 definitely have helped me out as a 30something. Also, I am offering these tips under the assumption you are a woman, like me.

    -Going to echo getting a clothes steamer, and as a quick hack using it under the garment instead of on top makes it easier to hold the fabric still while you’re steaming.
    -Dark colored jeans with minimal design on the back pockets. Avoid bootcut if you can, they tend to be a little too casual. If skinny jeans aren’t your jam, straight-cut is a happy medium.
    -A third piece! As a sales associate at J.Crew at the time, we had formulas for our attire that we had to follow, and the third piece was a big one. So, cardigan + blouse + statement necklace. Blazer + shirt + scarf. When I moved on from J.Crew, cardigan + blouse + necklace kind of became my signature. I have like three plastic bins for cardigans now.
    -A mostly neutral palette for my wardrobe (white, navy, black), but I love love love bright shoes! I only wear flats, can’t stand heels.
    -Shop ThredUp (not a tip from J.Crew, haha)! I’ve been able to get my hands on Ann Taylor/J.Crew without paying retail. I recommend shopping brands that you’re already familiar with on the sizing.

  101. Now In the Job*

    So much good advice here! And I’m going to go with some and against some, ahaha.

    I wear “dress pant yoga pants” to work. You can google and will likely find the brand I wear near the top. They’re stretchy, super comfy, a little spendy, but are a thick, quality knit that has held up to a lot of wear, multiple times a week, for over a year now. I even wear their brand of dark wash jeans.

    Similar to this, I also bought dress shirts that do not need ironing. I own four of them and do laundry once during the week. I literally wear these five days a week, with either a sweater, a sportcoat, or both over top. It is an investment, but it means I spend no time ironing and the least amount of effort dressing myself every day and still managing to look the part. I don’t wear any jewelry or accessories aside from my wedding band and my FitBit, and 90% of the time I wear the *same* blazer every day. No one notices. But it puts my outfit together into the “this person is put together and professional” category. If you’re a warm person, you can even get away with a sleeveless top underneath these.

    If you’re femme presenting, I find that just a little bit of eyeliner for days when I’m not up to doing makeup goes a long way to making me look like I put myself together, even if it just took 30 seconds.

    Make sure your hair is “handled” is how I’m going to put it. It doesn’t have to be straight or smooth, especially because some people cannot achieve this without a ton of work or damaging their hair! If you have natural curls and textured hair, this may mean learning some more about curly hair-care methods, protective hair styling, and investing a little in things that will keep your hair healthy and handled for its natural state. But if your hair is managed in whatever style you wear it, it will go a long way towards looking put together.

  102. Salsa Verde*

    Seconding everyone who said blazers/jackets. You can wear jeans and a t-shirt, but once you throw on a blazer, it becomes more professional. And now they are making very polished blazers in ponte or other knit materials, so they are not stiff and restrictive, they are just as comfortable as a sweatshirt!

  103. Krabby*

    Honestly, blazers. You can pretty much wear whatever crap you want, but if you throw a blazer on over top, suddenly you’re business casual (particularly if you stick to darker pants/jeans). I’m pregnant and can only wear sweatpants and maxi dresses right now, but I can throw a blazer on with that and look fairly formal.

    1. 1234*

      In the “before” times, I kept a black blazer in my car. I had a last minute work assignment to host an event 40 miles away and having that blazer made me look and feel so much more polished.

  104. Us, Too*

    I’m fat and don’t really GAF about the polish aspect given I work in a tech field where everyone does whatever they want fashion wise. That said, when I DID care, there were a few really simple rules that made being polished easier:

    1. I only bought fabrics that were easy care and didn’t wrinkle.
    2. All my underwear and bras were skin toned and designed to not show under anything I put on so that I didn’t have to worry about matching my undergarments to my outfit.
    3. I put on a pair of discreet, but “classy” earrings (e.g. diamond or pearl studs) and LEFT them on literally for years at a time.
    4. Tailoring as needed to get a decent fit. I prefer flow-y clothing but even that sometimes needs help.
    5. Similar colors so that all my bottoms matched all my tops. Second the idea that dresses are super easy to wear.
    6. I bought one really nice handbag (or briefcase or backpack) in a neutral color and used it always. No purse switching.
    7. Shoes were simple and usually plain – dark leather, e.g.
    4. SCARVES. Even a really simple and plain tunic or t-shirt is upleveled by a nice scarf. And some comfy black trousers, a pair of black leather shoes and you’re done.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      I keep seeing ads for round-backed earrings (comfyearrings dot com) and I’m excited to try them soon! I got out of the habit of wearing earrings when I had to wear noise-canceling headphones for work all the time.

    2. Badasslady*

      Thank you for you not GAF attitude. There’s a delicate balance here between knowing these are things some of us need to need to think about to be successful professionals and also recognizing that this is problematic af.

      1. Us, Too*

        I admit to feeling super conflicted about all this image stuff TBH. I’m in a field that age is NOT viewed as a good thing, necessarily. I’m intentionally NOT dying my hair or get botox, etc because I want to push as far against this narrative of youth/image being associated with agile and creative thinking and technical capability as possible. That said, I worry about it impacting my career TBH. If I ever have trouble finding a job, you can bet I’ll be in line for botox, fillers and a hair cut/dye job plus makeup etc until I get a new job. :/. It’s just gross.

    3. GNG*

      Yes to all of this! I have very similar rules. For me:
      1. I only buy bras that match my skin tone, and also have smooth cups. No cups with lace or embroidery. If a bra works well, I buy 6-7 of them so all my bras reliably work the same way.

      2. Same here, I also get a very nice bag, I prefer black or beige, and also use the same one to avoid switching. I take care of it so it stays pristine for as long as possible. I don’t put it down on the floor or the ground. I always buy a more structured bag for work.

      2a. However if I do switch it up, here’s my rule: If my clothing that day is more tailored/structured, then I can get away with a more “slouchy” style handbag. If my clothing is more relaxed/flowy that day, then I’ll pair it with a more structured bag. I know I personally don’t look polished with a flowy clothes + slouchy bag combo.

      2b. I sometimes see people carry a tiny/small handbag but cram it super full of stuff and it ends up looking all lumpy, the zipper won’t close and things are sticking out from the top. I don’t think it looks polished. I think it’s better off to use a larger bag so everything fits nicely instead.

  105. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Particularly if you are not a common size or shape, you may wish to check out eShakti. They offer a wide range of sizes, and you can customize lengths, sleeves, and necklines on most garments to match your body and your tastes.

    1. Foiled by Trefoils*

      I know some people have had mixed results with eShakti.com but personally I’ve been really happy with what I’ve ordered from them. I am long waisted and the dresses I get made by them are the only fitted waist dresses I own that don’t have the waits cutting me off before the bottom of my ribs.

  106. A Reader*

    If you can afford it, my experience has been that more skilled hair stylists can make a huge difference even with the same cut. It might be worth trying a splurge on an expensive salon if that isn’t something you usually do. If hair care/styling is not your forte, ask the stylist a lot of questions. Then if it feels worth it, you can keep going back. I used to do cheap cuts, but the person I go to now is now among the most expensive in the area but I’ve found she’s a magician at making me feel polished. I went to a different person recently (not Supercuts or anything, just a less expensive salon) and the difference was somehow very noticeable without it being something I could pin down.

    This is something you can try no matter your gender/presentation.

  107. Observer*

    One thing that’s worth noting. A polished look doesn’t have to take a ton of time. For instance, it doesn’t take more time to get dressed in a well fitting outfit than one that doesn’t fit well. It’s true that sometimes that look will take some extra time, especially up front (eg it might take longer to find the right clothes to buy), but in an ongoing basis, time per se is generally not the issue.

  108. Tib*

    Hire a stylist. They’re cheaper than you think, can be in person or remote, and you’ll save a ton of money in the long run. You could also schedule time with a personal shopper at a store like Nordstrom or just work with a sales person you connect with. Some large thrift stores have personal shoppers too. Pick a few outfits that you want to polish and work with someone to make them better. Try on a whole bunch of stuff, especially things outside your normal style, and take pictures of every outfit to analyze later. You could be having trouble with fit, proportion, types of fabrics, your hair, posture, etc.

  109. TimeTravlR*

    So many great recommendations but I didn’t see (did I overlook it?) one that I use all the time and it always makes you look more pulled together. It’s how we were taught in the military:
    Line up your lines. If you are wearing a button down shirt with trousers with a front zip and/or button, a belt, anything like that, make sure it’s a straight line all the way down. Look up “gig line uniform” if you can’t picture it. We would get dinged on an inspection if our gig line wasn’t straight so it’s ingrained in me now!

  110. Sambal*

    Lots of fantastic advice here, but I’m going to go out on a whim and mention some things I feel like people haven’t touched on yet. And full disclaimers that these suggestions range from small fixes to large investments.

    1. Skincare: I find that taking care of my skin has a large impact on my overall image. That might mean just running to a drug store and picking up some moisturizer and sunscreen. Or, it may mean visiting a dermatologist to help you out. I deal with adult acne, and my derm drastically improved my appearance. The actual medication is cheap ($10/tube), but I acknowledge the costs of visiting a specialist.

    2. Dental: That might just mean brushing, flossing + regular check ups. But I grew up in a household where my parents couldn’t afford to give me braces as a child, so getting braces as an adult was a game changer.

    1. JM in DC*

      Yes, agree 100% to skin care – it is also directly related to mental health, especially for teens and perimenopausal women. I recommend if you can’t see a derm, start at caroline hirons’ website/blog. So much practical, scientific advice.

      1. quill*

        Another skincare thing: sometimes less is more. Moisturizer is way more important to your skin than foundation, so if you have time before going back to the office to give your face a break from being covered in product, do it and see if things like acne or dryness improve when your routine is moisturize and go. A HUGE variety of the ingredients in makeup can irritate your skin even if you don’t feel it at the time.

    2. Katherine Vigneras*

      Skincare – YES! Curology is $40 every 8 weeks, which I find well worth it. Also, Caroline Hirons’ blog for cleansing products and technique – sounds crazy but using a washcloth to wash my face was a game changer.

  111. Badasslady*

    I am a tomboy at heart who’s not into the polished look that works in an industry where a very polished business look is required. Starting in this field required a huge adjustment for me, but here what I’ve learned:
    1) not all clothes brands are created equal. Invest in high quality professional clothes as opposed to going for the professional clothes in mall stores. I really like Banana Republic personally, but you can find other brands in the same price/quality category.
    2) You can find really high quality clothes for cheap in in places like Ross and other consignment stores. Avoid thrift stores though, since the clothes there can look worn out.
    3) Wearing make up makes a huge difference, even if you’re not good at applying it.
    4) accessories such as scarves and jewelry also can make a difference.
    5) Watch women in politics to get more of a sense of professional style (I model my work wardrobe after Selena from Veep). Try to use these models to determine what you like and don’t like.
    6) Let yourself develop your own taste of what you like and don’t like. Don’t try to chase what you think you should look like, but find places where you can look polished but still be you.
    7) Remember that the expectation of women to have a polished look is sexist and classist bullshit. Know what your boundaries are. Know what you’re willing and unwilling to do.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      If you want a more gender neutral look, check out Jana Shortal, a newscaster in Minneapolis. After years of trying to conform to the standard “female newscaster” mold, she now has an amazing polished look that is more gender neutral.

  112. LadyByTheLake*

    This point was made in an embedded comment above, but pay attention to how comfortable the clothing — otherwise you may be squirming and adjusting all day. Also, pay attention to whether there are certain things that you tend to fuss with. For example, I got to the point where I can wear a watch, but I can’t wear bracelets or scarves because I have a tendency to fidget with them/fuss with them and that doesn’t look professional.

  113. JM in DC*

    Plus size 40s female in a conservative office, doing international work. I have been home since March 2020, so its been t-shirts and jeans except on Zoom calls. In the before times: Think smarter, not harder. I focus on my colors – I look best in cool colors (pinks, blues, purples), and neutral bottoms. And I think of the fabric and stitching and quality – cotton, silks, wool blends, etc. I spend my money on things that will last a long time, like unique jewelry, jackets, scarves, etc. I don’t shop trendy, the latest fashions; I want pieces that will last at least 5 years. Many items in my closet are over 10 years old. And agree with those to find a tailor. And cardigans/blazers are my best friend, especially in a cold office. Also cute, comfy shoes – I will spend over $150 for this, and wear them for many years, but they usually stay in the office so last a long time. For make-up, I wear foundation, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick, but minimal and neutral – both department store and drug store brands. I may use highlighter if I want some glow. (In the before times) I don’t color my hair, but I have a cut for my face shape – round – and hair type – thick but fine, and can be styled in less than 10 minutes in the morning, including drying.

  114. Junie B. Jones*

    A lot of folks have commented regarding wrinkly clothes – in the office, neatly steamed or pressed clothes should be a must, regardless of the dress code of your workplace.

    You can also look polished by having neatly combed (and clean) hair and by making sure you don’t go to the office with wet hair. I know it can be a challenge to get out of the door in the morning, but instead of a messy bun, try a sleek ponytail or a sleek low chignon. They take just as much time as putting hair into a messy bun, but contribute to the overall polished look. You don’t have to wear makeup or style your hair elaborately every single day to be considered polished and professional, but you should put *some* effort into having a neat appearance on a regular basis. Even if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on your hair, invest in some hair clips or claw clips or headbands – you can just throw a headband on and you’ll instantly dress up your outfit a little bit more. Claw clips are back in style now, and if you take some time on the weekend or after work to learn some simple styles and practice, you can try those on mornings you don’t feel like doing a ponytail or bun or something and you’ll still appear stylish and neat. I’ve found that my hair accessories are also good conversation starters with other coworkers.

    Before anyone says “well who notices a messy bun” or “who cares” – I’m someone who always notices if folks look disheveled or messy when they come in to work. I don’t really know why it’s considered “extra” or “too much” to want to put some effort into how you look for work. I personally enjoy dressing up and doing my makeup and hair for work, but someone who doesn’t want to do what I do can still look nice and professional without the effort.

    1. Katherine Vigneras*

      For sleekness – using a Denman brush can help to get it sleek, and smoothing some mousse over the top once the pony or chignon is in place can help it to stay sleek.

  115. matcha123*

    I’ve put more effort into my office appearance over the past few years.

    The cheap things are:
    – Trimming eyebrows and finding and eyebrow pencil to match skin/hair color. (and shave the unibrow)
    Full disclosure, I have very long eyebrows. It’s not unusual for me to pull ones that are half and inch long.
    I found eyebrow scissors a few years ago and started trimming. I also fill in (ironic) the patchy parts with an eyebrow pencil. In my case at least, trimmed eyebrows that have been “shaped” with a pencil can be all I need to look polished. Especially now wearing a mask all the time.

    – Clip nails and keep them filed. Also use clear nail polish.
    I’ve seen people try to shape long nails, it’s not my thing, however. I think that shortish nails with a clear nail polish look “neat.”

    – Hair wax (depends on hair type) and bobby pins can help create a polished hairstyle.
    I live in a humid place. Typically I go for a straight perm, but with covid, I’ve stopped. I do still straighten my hair, but when I can’t devote enough time to it, I use some hair wax to help it keep its shape.
    I also have trouble with sideburns, so I use bobby pins to pull the hair back.

    – Dark bottoms and basic tops.
    I figured that no one really pays that much attention to my daily outfits, so I have a few staples that I can rotate. I have a small washing machine and wash clothes every two to three days. But with that it’s basically black slacks, plain shirts (some sleeveless) and a lightweight cardigan for when I wear the sleeveless tops.

    – Scrape off the dead skin after every bath/shower.

    – Use lotion (shea butter!) after every bath/shower to keep skin looking nice and to keep it moisturized.

    – Brush your teeth daily, floss and check for things stuck in your teeth.

    More expensive:
    – Eye makeup from a brand (Bobbi Brown, etc.)
    I don’t know much about makeup, but I sat through their tutorials and copy what they do.

    – Clothes that fit well.
    I spend a massive amount of time window shopping and going to thrift shops.
    Try on lots of different styles, and take pictures in the dressing room. Trying on clothes is free! Then create a mental picture of styles you like and keep an eye out for sales.

    – Good, clean shoes.
    Keep your eyes out for sales in styles you like. But also take time to pull the laces out of your sneakers and hand wash them. Some tennis shoes might survive the washing machine in a special net, too. If your shoes look nice and clean, that helps a lot in looking “polished.” If you buy leather shoes and get caught in the rain, take the time to dry them off when you get home.

    – Underwear that fits.
    Good fitting bras that make you feel good in what you wear improve your mood, which improves how you look. They may be pricier, but are worth it.

  116. Spicy Tuna*

    Your clothing must fit well. Looking put together was something I always struggled with when I worked in an office (I’ve been WFH for several years now). Nothing ever fits me off the rack, and I’m too lazy to get clothing tailored, so I always looked disheveled. However, I always noticed that the people (men and women) in the office that looked the most polished were the ones whose clothing fit them perfectly.

  117. RagingADHD*

    This may or may not be your problem, but it’s something I didn’t really learn until I was in the workforce a while and had a friend “tutor” me. If you’re wearing professional outfits but seem to always kind of come apart and look frazzled early in the day, here are some things to look into.

    1) Your haircut: Not the style, the cut itself. A well-done haircut by a stylist who actually knows what they’re doing, and that’s regularly maintained, keeps your hair looking neater in any style, because you’ll have fewer split ends and flyaways. Your hair also grows unevenly at different rates on different parts of your head, so the more your hair grows out, the prone it will be to looking messy.

    2) Fit. Clothes that are the “correct” size but don’t quite fit right are going to migrate around on your body, come untucked, slip, flop, or gap in ways that look sloppy. Well-fitted clothes stay in place better as you move. The difference between someone who looks sophisticated and put together, and someone who doesn’t, in pretty much the same clothes? Tailoring. Almost nobody has off-the-rack clothes fit them really well, because OTR clothes are generic sizes. A good cheat for tailoring is buying things with some drape or stretch to them, but enough thickness in the fabric that they don’t show every lump of your underwear or body contours. (Or that are designed to flare and skim over contours).

    Speaking of underwear, the fit matters there, too. If your underthings are cutting into you and creating lumps, slipping out of place, or otherwise disrupting your outer layer, it’s going to look sloppy. Get stuff that fits right and stays where you put it.

    3) Grooming: Tidy nails and cuticles. Tidy eyebrows and makeup (if worn) or tidy facial hair if worn. Hair that’s properly moisturized for the climate, maybe with some product to help it stay in place.

    4) Accessories: It may take some experimentation with different outfits, but simple choices of watch, pin, scarf, tie, socks, earrings or necklace (depending on your presentation) can make you look much more put-together. Shoes matter, too: they should be clean, well kept, and coordinate with your outfit.

    5) Temperature/sweat: This is something you can’t control directly, but you can be aware of and compensate for. If you get overheated easily, have very oily skin, or tend to sweat under pressure, it’s always going to make you look less polished. Choosing hairstyles & outfits that keep you cooler and hide or hold up to sweat can really help. So can powdering yourself with cornstarch before dressing, choosing makeup that holds up (if worn), and carrying dry shampoo or blotting papers.

    Being polished is a combination of a lot of details. They don’t have to be difficult or really expensive, but they do require a bit of attention and finesse, especially when you’re trying to find what really works for you.

  118. Amtelope*

    As someone who is not comfortable at all in dresses/skirts, I just want to add that you don’t have to present in a feminine way to be polished. Slacks + blazer + shell in neutral colors (or neutral colors with one bright color accent) is fine as an outfit without adding jewelry. If you borrow from menswear, make sure items are tailored to fit you (if you’re curvy, button-down shirts will gape unless you get them made for you or altered to fit) and at a similar level of formality to what male colleagues are wearing. Get a haircut that looks crisp and intentional, especially if you don’t wear makeup. You don’t have to carry a purse, but use a professional-looking messenger bag or briefcase. And nice leather boots can be a great way to get the effect of a heel without actually wearing high heeled dress shoes.

  119. Robin Ellacott*

    I have a book called “how to get dressed” which was written by someone who did wardrobe for tv/film and has lots of useful info on fit, matching, tailoring, and so on.

    I tend to wear a lot of the same colours to work but find a bright accessory (bracelet, scarf, or even lipstick) makes people comment positively every time.

    Laying out the clothes the night before really helps for me. I am not at my best in the morning.

  120. AutolycusinExile*

    I subscribe to the opinion that polish is at least 50% appearing confident. Lots of people have mentioned making sure that your clothes fit properly, but I want to explicitly add to that: make sure they feel comfortable, too. Even if something fits you perfectly and flatters the shape of your body, if you don’t feel comfortable in it then your discomfort will show through. A good example of this is someone wearing a skirt that is shorter than they are accustomed to – they’ll unconsciously pull it down and smooth it out constantly, which gives off a nervous and unpolished impression. Meanwhile, someone in jeans and a t-shirt who speaks confidently and acts proactively will appear polished regardless of their outfit.

    The other unconscious thing that I know contributes is the impression that you put together your outfit intentionally. This can mean almost anything as long as it shows that you gave your clothes or accessories some kind of thought beyond throwing on the first shirt and pants you saw in the morning. Color/pattern matching, an up-do, a piece of jewelry, an accessory like a scarf or a hair clip/headband, etc. My go-to is usually either a necklace or simple earrings, since I can throw them on in five seconds and then literally forget about them for the rest of the day (I hate having to fiddle with my clothes or check on my makeup throughout the day). As soon as you add a fancy ‘extra’ to your look, it becomes immediately visible that you spent time caring about your appearing and this will unconsciously make the people looking at you think you look more put-together. It doesn’t take much – just one thing will immediately give you +10 fashion!

  121. Former call centre worker*

    I really struggle not to look scruffy in traditional office wear – trousers, shirts etc. My solution: stop wearing it. I stopped trying to look smarter and started trying to look more me. What I wear now wouldn’t look like smart clothes on the hanger, but on me it looks more put together and presentable. So my advice is to stop trying to look like someone else’s version of presentable and find your own style. Wear clothes you actively like and you’ll no longer feel scruffy.

  122. S*

    I have no tips applicable to men, but for women’s clothes, I found that getting a few months’ subscription to a mail-based rental place was a game changer. I am overweight, so I used GwynnieBee, got a many-items plan, and basically tried everything that looked like it might work. I wore a lot of clothes I wouldn’t ever have bought, but ended up really loving some of them. The things I loved, I bought–usually at an enormous discount, and often new or nearly-new. I have a $300 dress that magically makes me look put together under any and all circumstances, and I think I paid $40 for it, new with tags.

    For me, dresses turned out to be the magic solution. You only have to choose one piece of clothing, you can have a couple of blazers to throw over them for more formal meetings, and they’re comfortable year-round (at least where I live). There are so many different shapes for dresses, and once I knew what worked for me, it was surprisingly easy to buy clothes.

    I don’t buy anything that isn’t machine-washable, and I don’t have anything that wrinkles. I have a single piece of Statement Jewelry that I always wear (a ring). I ask my hair stylist for something wash-and-wear that looks professional but not like I’m going to ask for your manager, and I schedule hair cuts every eight weeks to keep it looking good. I keep work shoes in the office to minimize scuffs and repairs. As a result, I haven’t had to wear makeup or do anything other than dry and brush my hair to maintain a relatively put-together look. And my clothes are comfortable enough that my wardrobe didn’t change when we went remote.

  123. Former Retail Lifer*

    I have four pairs of the exact same pants in black because they fit me exactly how I want them to. I have a couple of black jackets that are pretty similar. I have more fun with tops and jewelry. I feel so much more put together with earrings and a necklace or bracelet than I do without. Button-down shirts never fit me right, always seem to get wrinkled, and are unflattering on me when tucked in, so I have a ton of tops that come to just below my waist so they don’t look sloppy when untucked.

  124. Caboose*

    Here’s my strategy:
    1. Have at least one accessory. Right now, I have a pair of simple stud earrings, a ring, and my fitbit. I got my ears pierced recently, so those stay in all the time. The ring also stays put at all times. The fitbit annoys me when I sleep, so I take it off overnight, but put it back on in the morning. It’s got a fake leather strap, so it looks more fashionable.

    2. Layer. My go-to outfit is a blousey top, skirt or jeans (software developer, there are no rules here), low profile sneakers/cute booties/nice sandals. That’s fine, but it’s not polished. The secret? A cardigan. Or a blazer, or a shawl, or a flowy wrap, or whatever other sleeved overpiece suits the look. There’s something about that single additional piece of clothing that takes an outfit from being “ah, well, I’m clothed” to “oooh, now that’s an OUTFIT”.

  125. M / P*

    Clean out your purse every day! No crumpled receipts, tissues etc.
    Avoid cheap plastic pens.
    Keep stuff for wardrobe emergencies at hand.
    Use hand moisturizer.
    (All advice I could use myself!)

    1. cubone*

      These ones are great and super unique! Clean purse and moisturizing your hands is key.

      Wardrobe emergencies: I learned from my time in politics to ALWAYS ALWAYS have a spare set of tights (or pantyhose, if anyone is still wearing those) on hand if you wear them. I always kept two pairs of black tights in my desk because I wore them a lot. I still always bring a spare package of new black tights to conferences/events (if I’m wearing them). My other big ones are keeping a nail file, toothbrush/toothpaste, and clear nail polish (for runs in tights/hose, if you don’t have a spare). And facial moisturizer and eye drops for dry offices.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Anyone remember the TV show Mad About You?

        There was a fantastic episode where Helen Hunt, the super organized and ambitious political professional accidentally switched purses with her slobby, chaotic sister. They switched lives.

        One of the magic moments was when the sister snagged her stocking right before a job interview, dove into the purse and voila! Of course the organized sister had a fresh pair.

    2. Evergreen*

      Such good advice! Also on the purse/bag choose a bag that’s suitably sized for your needs: not so small that it’s overflowing and not so big that you need to dig through it each time you sit down to a meeting.

      Also consider the bag a part of your professional outfit, and keep it as clean as you would clothing. Consider leather or a subtle neutral colour rather than a hiking/active daypack type thing.

  126. Ashley*

    So as someone who started a new job recently, something I have noticed on the polish front is how people’s work areas are. What does your lunch bag look like? What are your knick’ knacks and photos? Are you presenting the polished image there? If your space is polished the bad hair day seems a little less frumpy.

    1. nozenfordaddy*

      I swear this must be how I got away with looking like I’d rolled out of bed and pulled on whatever for so many years – because my cubicle/now office is tidy, tastefully decorated and all my accessories (lunch bag/purse/computer bag) are coordinated and hung neatly on the back of the door.

      I may have brushed my hair in the dark, have cat hair on my sweater and my shoes may not match (actually happened to me once – in my defense they were the same shoes just in black & brown and I was wearing one of each) but my work space screams competent!

  127. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I’m in a mostly-casual office (every time other than court, anyway) but also try to appear polished for work and often am complimented on my outfits and appearance, even though I’m not a particularly attractive woman. My tips:

    Hair is neat. That means clean-looking (you don’t need to wash your hair every single day, but you should once it starts to look greasy or dandruff-y), combed or brushed if that’s possible for your hair texture, and off your face. I have very long hair that’s cut straight across the bottom, no complicated style or routine, but regardless of whether it’s in a clip, a bun, or a braid, it’s off my face and clean. Even if it’s frizzy – and I find that my hair often looks frizzy unless it’s literally greased to my head – it doesn’t mater if it’s clean and otherwise “contained” some other way, like in a bun or clip.
    Body and teeth are clean. Again, that does not mean you have to shower every single day (if I do, I get eczema), but it does mean brushing your teeth, washing your face and hands, and wearing deodorant or antiperspirant.
    Clothes, shoes, and any jewelry are coordinated, clean, fitting, and as close to wrinkle-free as possible (though this is often difficult, especially with fabrics like linen). “Coordinated” just means “do they match or otherwise look like they’re supposed to be together?” No hugely clashing patterns, no mixed gems (say, a pearl necklace with topaz earrings), no discordant clothes (an expensive suit with bright orange sneakers). One of the reasons I prefer dresses over other clothing items is that I don’t have to worry about coordinating multiple different items at once.
    Generally, I find a more “fitted” silhouette reads as fancier than a baggy one, but you can have something more loose if you have something else fitted. So, a tucked-in dress shirt with wider-legged pants, or skinny jeans/leggings/tights with a loose top or dress.
    Nails and skin are clean and… even? Not sure what word I’m going for here. Like, you don’t want to have the skin bitten off around your nails (ask me how I know that’s a thing), jagged nails, or chapped lips. You don’t need to put on nail polish or makeup, but it can help with making things look more even. Most of the time, I go to work with no makeup on at all; if you do wear makeup, make sure it’s coordinating (I wouldn’t wear bright red lipstick with a dusty pink dress). Right now I’ve got lipstick and nail polish on, but it is not necessary if you’re otherwise put-together.

    I’m keeping this non-specific to gender and presentation so that it’s more widely applicable and because I don’t think you need to be hyper-feminine to look nice. I’mhyperfeminine, but that doesn’t mean everyone is.

  128. Kwebbel*

    Probably only works if you’re female-presenting, but my go-to is dark blue jeans over black boots with a blazer, either with a buttonless blouse or turtleneck underneath.

    And I find that I always overestimate how disheveled my hair and face look. Most of my colleagues don’t think I look as tired and old as I think I do, so I’ve stopped worrying about that!

  129. Controlling controller*

    CPA with fashion design degree here (it’s a long story)! If you like to think as little as possible about clothes, I recommend figuring out a formula that is easy and just wearing variations on that every day. Other people mentioned finding pants that fit and buying a few pairs, and then if you stick within the same color story (ex: greys, blacks and blues with silver jewelry; or tans, browns and reds with gold jewelry) then you can pretty much grab a top, pants, and blazer/cardigan and look put together every day. Generally 3 items (bottom, top, and blazer/cardigan) will look more like a complete outfit than 2 pieces. Bonus points if you add a piece of jewelry.

  130. The Happy Graduate*

    For me as a 5’3 woman, I feel significantly more polished when I’m wearing just a small heel to my shoes. In the fall/winter I keep a pair of neutral coloured goes-with-everything ankle boots that have a 1.25″ heel and immediately my posture is improved and I feel like the lines of my body/clothes look much more put together looking.

    1. The Happy Graduate*

      Also no costume-y jewelry!! No big brooches or heavy clunky necklaces/bracelets/rings. It’s better to be on the minimal side when it comes to accessories as accessories should be accentuating your features, not distracting from them, and you’ll look much more classy/put-together with that.

      Same goes for men with not wearing massive watches, just a smart looking leather band and classic watch face.

  131. Kensington*

    I work with someone who always looks disheveled, even when wearing work-appropriate outfits. Her pants are very long, such that they bunch around her shoes. I have concluded this is a big part of what gives that impression. (I am very short and have to have everything hemmed myself.) Well-fitting clothes are important!

  132. Kensington*

    Also, if you’re a woman, pointed toe shoes (even flats) are going to look more polished than rounded toe. I don’t know why this is.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      Oh wowwwww I could not disagree more. Pointy shoes to me look more “I’m trying to be Sexy” than “Yes, I Am Your CEO”. (Plus uncomfortable which maybe feeds into the first.)

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I agree somewhat agree with Kensington while also finding it super annoying. Too pointed looks closer to sexy, clubbing clothes, but comfortable flats with a wide toe box definitely don’t seem to “go” with dresses.

      I only wear shoes with a wide toe box because comfort. I don’t like cramming my toes into too small shoes; I find most shoes that narrows at the toe too small. But I usually dress in a butch style.

      I actually don’t mind dresses (certainly cooler than pants in the summer) except the matching shoes are almost uncomfortable (unless you can get away with sandals).

  133. Katherine Vigneras*

    Steam or iron, and lint-roll, your clothes. Even the knits. Make sure things fit. Unless you’re a Ralph Lauren fit model (my classmate was!) most things will only 80-90% fit off the rack. The Nordstrom credit card offers a tailoring benefit.

    If you wear a bra, make sure your bras fit correctly. Go to Nordstrom if you don’t have a stand-alone independent bra store.

    Keep your shoes polished and in good repair.

    One C-level woman I worked with brushed her hair and reapplied lipstick (subtle “my lips but better” color – I like Nars in Instant Crush and the salesperson at the counter said it was her best seller) on every bathroom trip.

    Eyebrow gel – I like the Bobbi Brown one.

    Take care of your nails. This might mean pushing your cuticles back, shaping, and using cuticle oil, or this might mean going for gels every two weeks – it’s whatever look and budget makes the most sense for you.

    1. Delta Delta*

      On lipstick – In these days of everything virtual, my workspace is in front of a plain white wall. I’m fairly pale-complected and have blonde hair so I sort of fade into the background. I’ve been using lipstick more and more, and I find I look a lot more polished than without it. I’ve been doing a very neutral-ish color, as well, but it just makes my lips look more present.

    2. GraceRN*

      Yes great points here. I would also recommend getting a fabric defuzzer/shaver to remove pilling from your clothes. Especially the knits. It might seem like a very small insignificant thing but it’s been a game changer.

      1. Katherine Vigneras*

        Totally agree. I like the Gleener for getting rid of pills as well as for lint brushing.

  134. Angstrom*

    Speaking as a curmudgeon who remembers when “business casual” was a new idea, these are a few things that can make someone appear “polished” or not. Most of these have already been mentioned.
    1) Hair under control. Hair in your face is not professional, regardless of the style or cut.
    2) Clothing fit. If you see a lot of horizontal creases, it’s probably too tight to look professional. Baggy & loose looks sloppy unless the garment is obviously designed to fit that way (tunic).
    3) Hands. Nails clean, appropriate length for task, not chewed. If nail polish is worn it should not be chipped.
    4) Shoes and other accessories look maintained — not scuffed, good laces, etc.
    5) Jewelry, accessories, etc. look matched with outfit, not randomly thrown on.
    6) A wristwatch. I know, archaic in this day and age, but being able to say “Meeting in 5 minutes” without “…..hang on, let me check my phone…..” seems crisp and professional.

    I found that having a “uniform” makes dressing for work much easier. For me it’s black or navy pants(multiple pairs, same style), black shoes and belt, button-down or polo shirts depending on season. It’s not exciting but it’s never wrong.

  135. Rachel*

    I get my dress shirts at the thrift stores in my area and then send them to the dry cleaner for cleaning/pressing. It does cost $, but I HATE HATE HATE to iron and this cost is worth it to me.
    I am a woman, but usually buy men’s shirts (longer sleeves and cheaper to get dry cleaned), there are often feminine patterns in the men’s section too.

  136. Turanga Leela*

    I’m late to the party here, but I feel strongly about this so I wanted to add to it! Some of my advice is specific to women, but a lot of it is true for everyone.
    1) Grooming is important. Get good haircuts regularly. Find a stylist whose aesthetic you trust (and/or show her photos of what you want your hair to look like), and ask for advice on how to fix your hair each day.
    2) Makeup goes a long way toward looking polished. If you’re comfortable with the idea of using makeup, look up YouTube tutorials on how to apply it. I basically don’t leave the house without primer, powder foundation, eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick, which sounds CRAZY but otherwise I look really tired and blotchy. If for whatever reason you don’t want to wear makeup, still take care of your skin: find a face wash that works for you, moisturize every day, treat any acne, etc.
    3) Wear clothes that fit. Ask salespeople for help finding clothes that look good on you, and see if the store provides tailoring. If not, you can get clothes tailored at the dry cleaner. This helps so much, especially with pants/skirts/dresses.
    4) Think about how the pieces of your outfit work together. Corporette has helped me with this, but so has Bridgette Raes, whose website has guides for how to mix patterns and how to coordinate one thing you’re wearing with other things. Her site totally changed the way I think about my clothes.
    5) Finally, just a personal thought: In business casual offices, a lot of people wear polo shirts and khakis. I hate polo shirts and khakis. I think they look unflattering and not stylish. Black, gray, or navy pants with a long-sleeved collared shirt will look much more polished on most people (please, roll long sleeves instead of wearing a short-sleeved collared shirt). Women especially can usually get away with a nice t-shirt under a cardigan or blazer, or they can wear dresses.

    1. RagingADHD*

      Pedro Pascal has done some heroic work in Narcos to redeem the short-sleeved collared shirt. But it’s easier to buy a long-sleeved shirt than to get Agent Peña arms.

  137. Makeup Maven*

    I’m a dark brunette woman from an ethnic group with a lot of body hair (thanks, dad).

    My tips apply mostly to men.

    1. Be sure you don’t have visible nose or ear hair.
    2. If you’re a man, be aware that electric shavers don’t cut as closely as hand-held razor blades.
    3. Use a magnifying mirror to be sure your eyebrows look tidy. View your face from different angles to catch hair that’s not obvious.
    4. If your hair is short, be sure you keep your neck and sideburns trimmed.
    5. Please don’t have visible chest hair!
    6. If you color your hair, be sure to keep the color fairly consistent if you’re going for a natural, polished look.

  138. theletter*

    This may be dependent on where you live in the world, but in more conservative places, I (a woman) like to separate ‘nice office/church’ clothes from ‘pretty event/date/brunch with the girls’ clothes.

    The nice office/church clothes have no holes/cutouts, shoulders are completely covered (so no muscle shirts, guys), no logos, writing or graphics, long enough to go past my fingertips if my hands are at my side, in colors that I like that I think look good on me. I also divide things seasonally so that I’m not sweaty in the summer or reaching for the sad back-up hoodie in the winter. Super thin cardigans are great for the summer.

    tights are great for those days when I want to wear a skirt but it’s just a little chilly. As a person who doesn’t like to show off leg hair, I find in the summer time that shaving semi-regularly is nicer than fussing with pantyhose. Slipshorts can make any skirt feel as comfortable as your favorite biking shorts.

    Footwear should also be super comfortable – in conservative areas, go with closed-toes. Neutral flats are always a good investment. If you like high heels, make sure that you can stand/walk in them for a long time without limping. If you are neutral or hate high heels, anyplace that would require them is probably not worth the ankle aches.

    1. quill*

      Lots and lots of facial lotion and a leave in conditioner / mousse. (My face hates most foundations.)

      Another idea is to take the focus off how well your face fits into femininity by adding other things, like jewelery.

    2. cubone*

      I mean…. I know this might be against the majority of advice in the thread, but I really don’t think “frizzy hair” is unprofessional. Matted, tangled hair, visibly dirty (or smelly) hair sure, but frizz is so affected by the weather, your hair type and all sorts of things. I can think of tons of people I’ve worked with you had frizz and I really don’t think it was ever unpolished. If you do really want to change it, then my best advice would be good quality conditioner (/hair mask now and then) and possible a bit of gel or hairspray (tip: don’t apply hairspray directly to your hair, spray it on a toothbrush and use that to comb/style your hair). Also, consider looking at the Curly Girl stuff online if you have curls. It’s a very intense community, but you don’t have to follow all of it and there are some really good tips that have changed my hair for the better (even though I don’t follow the whole method to a t). Curly Girl convinced me that gel wasn’t a nightmare of the 90s.

      I also dislike makeup, so my advice here is just to take care of your skin. Use moisturizer and sunscreen every day. Possibly get a tinted moisturizer if that helps your skin feel a bit more “polished”, but personally I’m meh on most of those. Also, while I’m meh on most makeup and hate the “full face” thing, I do have a simple routine with minimal products that makes me feel a bit more put together: eyebrow gel+ brown eyeshadow on the lash line with an eyeliner brush + a small dab of concealer + blush + tinted lip balm. You can either get a liquid lip + cheek tint, or just use the tinted lip balm on your cheeks.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      1. Don’t wear makeup.
      2. What is your hair texture? To me, curly/wavy hair looks more “normal” with a bit of frizz, but straighter hair doesn’t wear it as well. Try an anti-frizz styling product, and keep your hair out of your face with clips or a headband – a big glorious head of hair doing its own thing is perfectly fine but it needs to be out of your face without you constantly pushing it back. If you’re blow-drying it, experiment with letting it air-dry. If you’re air-drying it, see if a blow dryer helps (use a diffuser if your hair isn’t straight). If it’s not straight, don’t brush it. Use a comb or your fingers (if it’s curly, use fingers or a wide-tooth comb to detangle when it’s wet and then leave it alone).

    4. Katherine Vigneras*

      A dime size amount of Aveda Smooth Infusion Styling Creme or Living Proof 5-in-1 Styling Treatment, combed through when wet, pretty much killed my frizz. You can also use a tiny tiny amount of hair oil (Aveda Dry Remedy – took me 5 years to get through my first bottle, 2-3 drops at a time) on dry hair. If you don’t like makeup, brushing out your brows (literally just with a brow brush, no product) and using a lip balm (Clinique chubby stick, or even a tinted Burt’s Bees) can be more impactful than you might think.

    5. FormerProducer*

      I don’t think you need makeup to appear polished, although of course I don’t know your particular workplace! I almost never wear makeup and just try to make sure my skin is moisturized and my brows are brushed.

      As someone with frizzy hair, my game changer has been getting an intentionally messy haircut. It’s a sort of curly shag look, so the frizz doesn’t seem out of place, and I don’t have to do much (or anything) to style it. Your mileage may vary depending on your hair type, but hopefully helpful!

    6. RagingADHD*

      Groom your eyebrows, take care of your teeth, wear moisturizer and lip balm, and keep your hair conditioned and well-trimmed to reduce dryness and split ends.

    7. Esmae*

      Definitely don’t feel like you have to wear makeup! A good moisturizer goes a long way, and if you find yourself getting oily before the end of the day I recommend blotting paper. It’ll take the oil off without leaving anything on your skin.

  139. Sue M*

    If you can’t (or don’t want to yet) spend money on getting denim tailored, you might try these stretch belts they have on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B078RM46LY/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    They work with other fabrics too but I find them especially useful with denim that fits me everywhere but at the waist – and since the belt is adjustable (and stretchy) they work very well. I especially like this option because I like to use ThredUp myself, including disposing of my own clothes there, and they won’t accept clothes with alterations – so this saves me that.

    I’ve also found these to be useful – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076QG23MS/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I think they are really useful for making things fit a bit more – and honestly, I learned about these from TV reporters/presenters. They always look so tailored and I have a friend who is a meteorologist and she said they use these ALL the time to temporarily tailor something – and even though you can see it (sometimes) it’s fine. It’s really unnoticeable if you use one on a dress or top and then have a jacket/cardigan over it – you can’t see it at all, and it makes the shirt or dress look less “bunchy” under the jacket/cardigan.

    I also recommend looking into sweater clips – they have some really pretty and not expensive ones on Amazon; you can use some of them the same way as the clips above but these are decorative so they look intentional. I got some to keep my cardigans that don’t have buttons in place And ever notice on TV the characters who are wearing cardigans have them completely stay in place? Hollywood Fashion Tape. just keep some in my purse and my desk and it can solve any button-up gap-osis you might have OR keep a blouse from shifting so that your bra strap shows.

    I also agree with any posters who talked about what a difference hands/feet/hair make – you don’t have to wear makeup (although I like it so I do), but keeping your hair neat (in whatever style you choose) and cut on the regular, keeping your nails neat and buffed (or polished!), and good shoes in good condition. You can be wearing all kinds of fancy high dollar clothes and ruin it completely by wearing worn down dirty shoes.

  140. just another manager*

    Lots of good advice here already. The “3rd piece rule” has helped me. I prefer wearing neutral colors, and I find making sure I add one thing like a necklace, scarf, jacket, or etc. helps me feel and look more put together. https://modernmrsdarcy.com/rule-of-three/

    I got a mani/pedi last weekend and instead of doing nail polish on my fingers, my tech buffed them. I LOVE it. I keep my nails super short, and I don’t really like painting them because it’s too much maintenance to keep it up. But this buffing thing is genius!

  141. ObserverCN*

    I definitely agree with the advice about good grooming.
    If you wear glasses and haven’t gotten new ones in awhile, I’d suggest looking for a pair in a more contemporary or fashionable style.
    If you carry a briefcase/backpack/purse to work, make sure it’s in good shape and looks professional.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I have a really nice Coach bag that somehow I’ve twice frayed the strap on. I had to send it out for repair and it’s fraying again. Frustrating, and expensive to keep repairing the same strap.

  142. RB*

    I think it helps to have a “look” for yourself. It can be really simple, similar to how men basically wear the same thing every day with minimal differences. Mine is a dark blazer or longer cardigan on top, leggings on the bottom. These are nice leggings, not like something you’d wear to the gym or the ones that look more like hosiery. There is plenty of room for variation with what you wear under the blazer, and with switching the leggings out for skirts. Nice flats or sandals or boots, and a higher heel if I’m going for something more formal. Jewelry and scarves also help add variation. Don’t overthink it. And try different looks sometimes for fun.

  143. Delta Delta*

    Lots of these things have already been said, but:

    – Make sure your shoes and accessories aren’t scuffed. Yeah, those black Danskos are my faves, but they look awful. I hit them with some shoe polish and they look better.
    – Clothes that fit! They don’t need to be expensive, they just need to fit. I got my best ever blazer at Target for $29. My crazy expensive Brooks Brothers suit doesn’t fit right and looks awful.
    – Grooming. Get haircuts regularly (I am guilty of getting haircuts every 18 months or so because I don’t care about them). I have also found some fairly low-maintenance hair products that can help with flyaways and overall hair control that I like. I have long, straight blonde hair. What works for me may not work for someone else, so try out a few different things to see what you do like.
    – Retiring clothes that need to be retired. My favorite yellow blouse got dingy and then got salad dressing on it, and then got deodorant stains. It was sad, but I had to let her go.
    – Jewelry – go with what’s within your style and comfort. But also assess whether maybe you wear too much. An attorney friend of mine wears about sixteen bracelets. They’re jangly and distracting. Another attorney friend of mine somehow wears about sixteen rings on her fingers and she does it in such a way that they look coordinated and they enhance her style. Not sure how to say “do this” or “do that” but perhaps really assess how jewelry coordinates/enhances.

  144. Library IT*

    There are a lot of good suggestions in the comments! I am a cis woman and don’t wear makeup or jewelry, and I can
    only wear tennis shoes, so a lot of the suggestions are not things I’m able to do, but I still think I usually look polished. My suggestions are:
    1) Whatever shoes you wear, make sure they are clean and not torn up. I also find that wearing colorful tennis shoes makes it look more like a statement. A more designer sneaker (Sketchers/Converse) tend to look good with any outfit…even a dress.
    2) Everything looks more polished with a blazer. I like a nice one button black blazer in a fabric that doesn’t wrinkle. I can throw it over any outfit and immediately look polished. This is especially good if your casual involves wearing jeans. A jacket is going to dress you up well.
    3) Whatever your hair length or style, make sure it is out of your face.
    4) If you are so inclined, wearing a dress always makes me feel more polished. I don’t have to worry about if pants fit just right, if my top is riding up, etc.

  145. Juniantara*

    Evaluate all clothing, makeup and hair choices based on how they look 6-7 hours in. I actually don’t love “crisp white dress shirts” because they will inevitably be creased and wrinkled by the middle of the day. Same with hairstyles that will fall or sprout flyaways you can’t easily fix, same with makeup that will smear or fade unpleasantly over the course of the day.
    Generally speaking, I think if you can maintain a consistent look throughout the day without a ton of maintenance, that goes a long way toward the “polished” end of the spectrum. Also, be ruthless in getting rid of clothing that is pilling/stained/pulling/faded – especially if you are using less expensive clothing

  146. Environmental Compliance*

    Piggybacking off of this…. does anyone know of any blogs/’influencers’/etc. that focus on women in more industrial roles? I cannot wear slacks at work. I have to wear denim pants and steel toes, no dangly things, and I’m often wearing a hard hat. I’d love to look more professional and not have to wear just polos every day with my hair half tied back (as it’s too short to fully put up).

    1. Tessera Member 042*

      Maybe Duluth Trading Company things would work well for you? Their Wayforgers advertising campaign seems to focus on women in roles like the ones you describe.

    2. HCW*

      Xena Workwear makes some legit cute steel toed boots, though they are pricey. I bet their social media is worth following for inspiration.

      1. Hillary*

        Have you tried Xena? I’ve only seen ads and I’m deeply curious. My safety shoes now are Wolverine boots – comfy but not stylish. The guy at the work shoe store told me I’d regret all the cute ones, he said they were designed for office workers who occasionally have to go out, not for people on their feet all day in a plant or dc.

    3. Hillary*

      I was in this boat for a while. I liked dark jeans that fit well versus lighter washes. On top I like more structured shirts with blazers. There’s something about a blazer that pulls my shoulders back and improves my posture.

      Fine jewelry is a big part for me. I get a lot of confidence knowing my daily pieces came from my grandma or I bought with my own money.

  147. e271828*

    If OP is a man, I suggest wearing a clean (and pressed if necessary) shirt with buttons and a collar, in a neutral color or a non-flashy print if you’re in an arty line of work (no hibiscus or palm trees). Jeans depending on how casual your office is, but they need to fit well! No rips, no stains, no fraying. Have your trousers altered so that the legs are the correct length and the waistband fits you correctly. So many men use a belt to kind of bunch up the waist! And don’t stuff the pockets full. Chinos still seem to be acceptable universally as office casual, and again please have them altered so they fit well and don’t look baggy or little-boy-ish. Shoes should be street shoes, not technical, and if leather they should be kept polished to look neat. Replace your socks and underwear as soon as they show signs of wear.

    For personal appearance, be clean—bathe daily. Keep up with grooming and haircuts, don’t get shaggy. Engage in basic skin care (washing, sunscreen/moisturizer). Keep your teeth clean, and if you smoke or eat strong-flavored foods, use mouthwash afterward.

    In general, do not wear clothes that look like children’s play clothes. No t-shirts, unless the company has handed you one for an event. No shorts, unless you’re in an area where tailored shorts for men are a thing, in which case get them properly fitted.

    The second layer is going to depend on your specific office—tweed jacket, sportcoat, cardigan, pullover, neutral sweatshirt, fleece… But look around and notice what the higher-ups wear, and let that guide you.

    1. PT*

      Where do you work that you need to wear tailored business attire but your coworkers are inspecting your underwear for signs of wear?

  148. Hello Friends*

    My tips are generally more for building a wardrobe on a budget, but I thought it would be helpful for someone reading the comments today. When I was first starting out in an office job, I made $32,000/year in the most expensive city in my state. Things were… tight. Luckily there was a Goodwill store in the super wealthy part of town. We are talking Kate Spade purses, Ann Taylor pants, etc. Really helped to build up my professional wardrobe on a budget. ThredUp, while on the pricier side of thrift shopping, means you can search for specific brands (Calvin Klein, Banana Republic, etc.) that would otherwise be out of budget. And then shopping during the off season. Let’s say you’re looking for a nice, wool dress coat. Shop for it in the late spring/summer when everything is going to be on clearance. Also, if you don’t have money for a haircut and the hair is looking a little shaggy, never underestimate the pull half back with a clip look, saved me on many occasions when my side bangs started getting too long and I was too scared to trim them myself.

    Also, on the professionalism side, always steam/iron and lint roll. When you can, get things tailored so everything fits properly. Simple makeup that won’t make you look like a racoon by day’s end or when you end up crying in your car over your lunch hour… not that I am speaking from experience on that one.

  149. nozenfordaddy*

    A few things i did to make my life easier while still looking as polished as possible:

    1. Buy tailored styles, and/or get them tailored to fit well. Then take care of them. I hang all my work clothes right out of the drier so they don’t wrinkle/crease (I hate to iron so this is key).
    2. If possible with your hair type/texture get a low maintenance style. It took years for my hair guy to fully understand that anything I had to do more than wash and brush when dry wasn’t getting done.
    3. Buy good quality accessories – shoes, bags, watch/jewelry etc. And coordinate where possible.
    4. I pretty much wear black/white, grey and maroon to work. I have a number of mix and match items so my wardrobe seems bigger than it is in combination and also gives the illusion of effort being made to coordinate it all.

  150. Bird Lady*

    My recommendation is to get good fitting underwear and bras (if one wears bras). An ill fitting bra will cause odd bumps and under your clothes that could take away from looking polished.

  151. Another JD*

    Don’t be committed to the number on the label as your size. Brands vary wildly in fit and the numbers don’t matter. I have size 0 pants and size 8 dresses and bathing suits and they all fit me the same. If that’s hard for you, get pants in the size you think you are, plus one above and one below. Then try them all on without looking at the label to evaluate fit rather than size.

  152. Astrid*

    I haven’t read through all of the comments, so my apologies if this has been mentioned already.

    I really enjoyed the story from a few years ago about the woman who wore the same outfit for a year.
    https://www.washingtonian.com/2017/03/30/what-its-really-like-to-wear-a-style-uniform-every-day-renata-briggman/

    I think you can use this as a guideline for the type of clothes to stock your wardrobe. There’s nothing wrong with developing a signature style and sticking with it.

  153. Henrietta*

    I read on here that the only way for women to look polished at work is to have their hair up. So there’s your answer.

  154. Alison Smaalders*

    After much trial and error, my tips for looking nice, centered around minimum effort and maximum comfort.

    1. Keep track of what you buy and what you actually wear. I made a spreadsheet for this because of who I am as a person. What I bought, when, what brand/size, how much I liked it, how well it fit, how often I wear it, and would I buy it again. Knowing the brand, size, and style name of an item can help you find copies on poshmark or in thrift stores if you’re budget-conscious. It’s very important to track how comfortable items are, too. Looking uncomfortable in your clothes will always make you look less polished.

    2. Make sure your clothes fit. This can be really hard! Eshakti offers reasonably priced custom sizing for women, but a tailor can also help. So can knowing what sorts of styles can accommodate your personal shape. Clothes that fit are more comfortable, too- I have little tolerance for clothing that is tight, binding, or I have to adjust. This is the biggest part of looking polished IMO. FYI, this goes for shoes, too. I did not think it was possible to wear the wrong size of shoes for years, but I did. Turns out I’m not an 9, I’m a 10 narrow.

    3. Consider fabric types. Certain fabrics will look more polished than others, and certain fabrics will look more expensive. Generally speaking, fabric that feels heavier will drape better on the body. A thick rayon/spandex knit will give more coverage and look more polished than a thin fabric of the same type. Natural fabrics can be harder to care for (silk satin cannot be washed and retain its sheen, linen wrinkles, etc), but also look more expensive (because they are). Some natural fabrics can be treated to make them more wrinkle-resistant, but this does wear off over time.

    4. Consider narrowing your color palette. I now almost exclusively buy clothes that are white, gray, or blue, with a strong preference for gray, with black and gray leather accessories. Pick your favorite colors and/or the colors that look best on you and then your clothes will always match.

    5. Buy cheaper versions of things first before investing in a piece, but do invest in a couple nice things. This I learned from my mom, who bought me cheap PVC boots that I wore to pieces before she bought me a pair of doc martens (that I still own). If you absolutely adore a potentially worthwhile designer piece such an expensive handbag, find a cheap dupe, buy that, and see how much you use it. If you use it until the cheapness becomes apparent with wear and tear, then you’ll probably use the expensive one enough to justify the price. It is worth it to have some expensive items, and ideally ones that won’t become unwearable if you change sizes.

    6. Nails. Okay, I am bad at this one. I tear my nails as a nervous habit. No matter your gender, having nails of a consistent length and well-moisturized cuticles looks more polished. Keeping a bit of cuticle cream or hand lotion in your desk can help with this. I also keep a nail file in my purse to try to beat my nail tearing habit. Protip: glass files are great and last a long time.

    7. Jewelry- if you wear it, I find it’s easiest to wear the same thing every day. Hoops and studs are easier and lower-effort than dangly earrings, I’ve found. They don’t have to be expensive, but do clean or throw them out if they are cheap and start to discolor. You cannot go wrong with a pair of small pearl studs, even in a business casual office.

    8. Lay out clothes ahead of time. I had ADD, so I don’t always do this, but it makes my mornings SO much nicer. I check the weather and lay out everything I need, including accessories. No chance of weird sleep-deprived pre-dawn decisions!

    I hope this helps!

  155. PlatformSandals*

    I live in DFW, and it’s very difficult for me to feel polished at work during the summer because it’s JUST SO HOT and my clothing choices are limited. But if your workplace allows sandals – I have found chunky, interesting sandals make a huge difference in my confidence level with my outfits. I hate wearing “heels” but chunky platform sandals do the trick for me, and are way more comfortable. There are tons of styles out there, and I’ve invested in a few pairs that really make a statement. Then my clothing is pretty boring and neutral, but having the interesting shoe that gives me a bit of height boost brings it all together.

  156. A Little Bit Alexis*

    I think accessorizing makes a big difference. Adding jewelry, a belt, watch, and even “fun” shoes can take an outfit up a notch. I tend toward plainer clothes, but I almost always have a necklace on and I like patterned shoes for subtle pizzazz. I have a metal allergy that makes rings difficult and earrings impossible, but I envy people who can wear them! Taking a moment to accessorize an outfit is a small thing, but I think it shows effort to be polished and reads as “finished” in a way.

  157. Chloe*

    My workplace is very casual, but I definitely put effort into my ‘work look’. I’m in my early 30s, female, fairly senior position (director-level), and really short, so I don’t want to look like a child. During the summer I usually do wrap dresses and non-flip flop sandals, and winter I tend to do dark jeans and a colored top with a blazer. I think that if you wear a slightly more ‘interesting’ top (cap sleeves vs. t-shirt style, peplum) or one that is a more expensive-looking material (silk, heavy cotton, etc) that looks a lot more put together than say, a plain T-shirt or something that is oversized. When I worked in retail, it was always a rule that you had to do more than one layer, and I think that goes a long way … think, a nice sleeveless top and a cardigan, vs. just the sleeveless top, or a sweater blazer/collarless blazer for more casual work settings in neutral colors that you can mix and match in with dresses, pants, skirts, etc. Also, simple accessories like pearl studs or a pendant necklace can make you look more put together quickly and easily. I also second ThredUp – love them (!) especially for inexpensive work-appropriate clothes.

  158. Virginia Plain*

    These are my thoughts:
    1)cleanliness – if there’s a mark or stain, or the underarm area is manky or the collar grimy, wear something else until it can be laundered
    2) pressed – if it needs ironing, iron it. And use hangers.
    3) mended – if you have a hem come down or a hole appear or a button off, get it mended if you can’t do it yourself

    4)In a professional environment nobody wants to see your undercrackers. Try not to have peeking bra straps, visible g-strings at the back, dark knickers or bra under a light/sheer garment.

    5) brush or comb your hair and have it neat – if that means tying it back or pinning it up, do so. If your hair is not the type to be combed/brushed, make sure it is neat within the context of your hair. Most of the time, off your face is good. Work is not the time to be smouldering mysteriously through a drooping fringe.

    6) if you like jewellery/hair accessories, make sure they fit in with your clothes. In many workplaces you can wear a feature hair accessory or a cocktail ring etc if it is part of your outfit, but a neat ensemble of a grey suit with a light blue blouse will be thrown off by a bright red hair elastic, as would a cute outfit of black trousers with a gorgeous emerald green top be compromised by a baby pink bead necklace.

    7) don’t be tooo casual – take your cues from the office but in general no, activewear is not acceptable no matter how good those leggings make your bum look, and flip flops are usually a no unless they are very very smart, of leather, perhaps with beadwork etc, and worn with trousers and an otherwise conservative look.

  159. Stina*

    Create an uniform for yourself. You don’t have to worry about if this goes with that and it’s a cohesive look all the time.

    Find several pairs of pants that are very similar and meet the company dress code and then several (enough to get through the week w/o laundry) similar tops/shirts in several colors and for each season. Make sure your pants fit well especially through the waist and the tops through the shoulder & chest and any “problem” areas you might have. Money spent on alterations is well worth it.

    Top it off with an easy to maintain hairstyle. One that you can keep tidy during the day and don’t have to spend time creating each morning. If you do make-up, keep it as simple and minimal as possible so you don’t have worry about during the day.

    Keeping it simple and low-maintenance is my way of looking good at work.

  160. alligatorchronicles*

    I like wash & wear fabrics, just for ease. But as for styling, I concur with the idea of a “uniform” of sorts. Mine is slacks or very dark jeans, a knitted blouse of some sort, and an army of simple cardigans in every color. Layering lets me deal with weird office temperature changes, and the cardigan pulls everything together. If jeans feel too casual, again, I always go for very dark, and good shoes go a long way towards dressing up jeans.

  161. Homophone Hattie*

    Coming in late here. I’ve read a lot of the comments and might have missed some, but I’ve not seen this tip: frequently purge your wardrobe (or at least your work wardrobe) of things that have started to look shabby. If you can repair or maintain and it still looks good, great! But look with a critical eye at everything a couple of times a year. Maybe seasonally if you’re in a place with seasons. It’s sad when your favourite top has started to look cracked and misshapen, but at a certain point it simply doesn’t look good anymore.

    This was something that I realised when I went back to my work wardrobe after a year and a half. Some things really should have been purged long ago.

  162. Jess*

    A blazer! I tend to cardigans for workwear (we’re a business-casual kind of office, not at all corporate), but I always feel 100% smarter when I wear a blazer. I like how they work with both smarter/dressier outfits, but can also look polished with jeans and a t-shirt.

  163. Chantal*

    Really love all the suggestions in the comments. I gravitate toward the black pants or skirt with a nice shirt. If I need to take it up a bit, I add a jacket and some accessories. In talking with some friends, we all seem to be having a really hard time finding well fitting, good quality shirts that would be great for work (under a blazer or jacket, over a skirt, with black pants, etc). Anyone have suggestions on brands or places that they have found work